India's Hockey World Cup dream ends before QF: What went wrong for Savita Punia & Co?

The Indian team during the FIH Hockey Women's World Cup 2022 Irina R. H./Europa Press via Getty Images

During crunch situations, when the Indian team is trailing or trying hard to stop the other team from scoring a winner, Savita Punia starts wishing for a shootout. She knows she's good at it and the team can trust her skills to pull off a victory. She was in a similar situation in the FIH Women's World Cup crossover match against Spain on Sunday. The score was 0-0 and Spain were pushing for the winner. With three and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Savita was hopeful of an India winner, and if not, she had the confidence to take on the shootout.

Spain's Clara Ycart collected the ball outside the circle on the right, showed her skills by dribbling past Indian defenders and managed to take the shot on goal, but Savita blocked it. Savita, who has been brilliant through the match, got her positioning and reflexes right, but the ball rebounded towards Marta Segu who converted the chance from a close range.

1-0 to Spain. India failed to find the equaliser in the remaining three minutes and they couldn't progress to the quarterfinals. The dream of a World Cup medal has been shattered.

Where did it go wrong for India?

Throughout the tournament, India failed to make it count when it came to converting the chances. Head coach Janneke Schopman moulded this team to play attacking hockey, demanding high work rate and fitness levels. The benefits were there to see in the Pro League matches. But in the World Cup, for all the hard work on the pitch, the goals simply didn't come when the team needed them the most. Especially from penalty corners. The two 1-1 draws against England and China did the damage in the group stage and failure to score against Spain ultimately ended their World Cup.

In fact, in their previous matches, India at least created more chances compared to their opponents. Against Spain, even this went missing. Spain had 14 shots from equal possession to India's just six. India earned four penalty corners, but the dismal show continued with zero success from dragflicks.

As expected, the match was intense. Both teams had spells where they dominated the possession. The physicality of Spain was troubling India as they were not able to win the balls in the midfield, and they created all the big chances.

Schopman's team showed slight improvement in the second quarter, although it was Savita who kept them alive with three back-to-back saves from a penalty corner. A big chance for India came in via Salima Tete who sprinted down the left flank and passed it to Vandana Katariya but the forward's sliding shot went just over the post. Vandana, who scored crucial goals against England, China and New Zealand, usually only needs a half a chance to score. This was an opportunity where only she could've converted, but she couldn't.

Spain were the better team in the second half. They were winning the balls and were much better in passing. India had to defend deep and once again Savita's saves stopped Spain from breaking the deadlock. Just when it seemed that Savita's heroics would give India a chance in the shootout, Ycart came up with a brilliant bit of play to set up Spain's victory. Without any doubt, Spain deserved the goal and a place in the quarterfinals.

What's next for India at the World Cup?

With no hopes of making it to the quarterfinals, India will aim to break their unbeaten run in the World Cup against Canada on Monday (1 am IST start so technically Tuesday) in a 9-16 classification match. The loss against Spain and the three tough group matches would've made a big impact on them, physically and mentally, so it's not going to be easy at all.

India will have to play one more match after the game against Canada, which will determine their final standings in this year's World Cup. In the previous edition, India finished eighth so their ranking will not be better this time. No doubt this is a setback after the team's impressive run at the Olympics where they finished fourth.

Which teams made it to the quarterfinals?

Apart from Spain, Germany, England and Belgium won their respective crossover matches to qualify for the quarters. The quarterfinal line up is: New Zealand vs Germany, Netherlands vs Belgium, Australia vs Spain and Argentina vs England.