Another day. Another seemingly insurmountable opponent. After what must have felt like a virtual mini-Commonwealth Games (India lost to Great Britain, but have since beat Ireland, South Africa and Australia in succession), the Indian women come up against four-time medallists Argentina on Wednesday in what promises to be a historic semifinal, irrespective of the outcome.
With a bronze medal match at the end of the road even if they lose, India will want to give this a good go. What will weigh in their favour is that they had spent three weeks in Argentina at the beginning of the year, playing eight matches against Argentinian sides, including three against the senior team. In terms of tactics and personnel, there may not be too many surprises to come up against.
India appeared dead and buried after three games, but since have scalped Ireland, the World Cup runners-up, and Australia, the erstwhile World No. 1, in a run of three wins. It's not the results themselves, but the manner of them that should encourage Sjoerd Marijne. Both wins against Ireland and Australia came with a clean sheet. India are keeping it simple and will need to approach this game with the same philosophy.
Argentina have been a bit up and down themselves, having won just three of their matches in a relatively lighter pool. Incidentally, they remain the only survivors from their side of the draw, with Netherlands and Great Britain joining India to complete the last four. Wins against Japan and China were by single-goal margins, and they were outplayed by both Australia and New Zealand. Their 3-0 win in the quarterfinal against Germany was built on a two-goal burst in a span of two minutes late in the second quarter of an even contest till that point.
Where the match will be won
India's defence against Australia was good, but they did invite a lot of penalty corners (PCs) right through the game. Their PC defence will need to be on point against a side that depends on set-pieces for a lot of their success -- for Argentina seven out of their 11 goals scored have been either PC conversions or through a penalty stroke.
Tactically, Argentina are quite conservative and would have observed how Australia appeared rushed when they failed to convert their early advantage into a goal. Expect the Argentines to be a bit more patient and invite the Indian forwards more towards them. It would be interesting to see the approach from an Indian perspective. If they play as freely as they did on Monday, there's no reason to doubt we could be in for a real contest.
Players to watch out for
She's been integral to the Indian campaign, but among all the strikers Lalremsiami is yet to find a goal in Tokyo. Argentina brings back pleasant memories for her -- it was in Buenos Aires three years ago that she spearheaded India's silver-winning campaign at the Youth Olympics. If she can convert her work rate into a goal that helps India into the gold medal match in Tokyo, that would mark this outing for the FIH Rising Star of the Year for 2019 as a truly memorable one.
For Argentina, defender Agustina Gorzelany has been the team's top scorer with three goals and is one of the best drag flick options they have. With field goals not having come as often as coach Carlos Retegui might have liked, her efficiency off short corners will be vital.
• Argentina captain Noel Barrionuevo, 37, was one of the scorers in Argentina's 3-1 win in the final of the 2010 World Cup in Rosario. Her opposite number on Wednesday, Rani Rampal, played in that tournament as a 15-year-old, and was adjudged young player of the tournament.
• Argentina are into their eighth appearance at the Olympics, having made every edition since missing out on Barcelona 1992. They won silver in Sydney and London, with bronze medals at Athens and Beijing to boot. India are just in their third Olympics campaign, and finished fourth in a round-robin tournament in 1980 on debut.
• In India's tour to Argentina earlier this year, the home side won the first two matches 3-2 and 2-0, before India drew 1-1 in the third, after having led through a Rani strike.
• In the history of women's hockey at the Olympics, Argentina are the only non-European side other than Korea to have made the final more than once. The only other non-European side in the final was China in 2008. Zimbabwe won the inaugural edition in 1980, but via round-robin.