Janekke Schopman, head coach of the Indian women's hockey team, was quizzed about her team's penalty corner conversions before the start of their World Cup match against China. Schopman spoke about the side working on them during Monday's training session, but also mentioned how good China are when it comes to defending penalty corners.
Schopman was right. Vandana Katariya scored the crucial equaliser for India from a penalty corner variation, but until then, China had frustrated them by blocking their numerous efforts. Neither Gurjit Kaur nor Deep Grace Ekka could beat China's defence with their dragflicks. It took a clever bit of variation for India to equalise, which helped them draw the match. India have played two matches so far, both ending 1-1 with Vandana scoring both the goals.
Why are penalty corners crucial in a match like this?
When there are two equally matched teams with nothing much to separate them on the pitch, penalty corner conversions become an important factor. Against China, India earned five penalty corners and converted one. The fact that they consciously worked on them during training sessions and still couldn't convert most of their chances should worry Schopman.
As expected, India had better numbers in attack. They penetrated the circle 16 times to China's 10. They had nine shots on goal to China's two. India created more penalty corners to China's two. But these stats didn't translate into the goals and for that China deserves credit.
They have improved significantly under head coach Alyson Annan and it showed. Defensively, they were solid and when they had the chances to counterattack, they were quick with the ball and produced sharp passing. The opening goal in the 25th minute showed the same. A pacy diagonal run from the middle of the pitch, a beautiful pass from Zhang Xindan and Zheng Jiali finishing with a powerful hit.
India were already frustrated, and this goal made it even worse for them.
Vandana keeps hopes alive
Vandana's celebration after scoring the equaliser showed what it meant to her and the team. As she let out a roar, there was relief among the players and the coaching staff.
The Indians had a slightly extended talk in the huddle before taking the penalty corner. The usual dragflicks were not working so it was time to try something different. It would've been tempting for Gurjit to take the hit, but she stuck to the plan. Vandana ran towards the right side of the goalkeeper and nailed a one-handed deflection from Gurjit's pass. Perfect execution to make it 1-1 just before the end of the third quarter.
China finished the match strongly, but they couldn't find the winning goal.
A win for either team today would've made things easier for them in terms of finishing in the top three of Pool B. So far, none of the teams in the group have won their games and the top three teams will likely be decided on July 7, when all of them play their final pool matches.
India will take on New Zealand and will once again they be up against a tough side. India have not been underwhelming in its opening two matches, but will need to improve. Especially in converting penalty corners.