Skipper Rani Rampal scored the decisive final goal of the match as India defeated USA 6-5 on the aggregate scoreline in the Olympic qualifier. (Source: Twitter/TheHockeyIndia)

The Indian Women’s Hockey team secured their berth in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as the unit led by Rani Rampal defeated USA 6-5 on the aggregate scoreline at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.

This is the third time the women’s team have qualified for the Olympics. They qualified for the Olympics in 1980 and then again in 2016. With this win on Saturday, India’s women’s team have qualified for successive editions of the Olympics for the first time.

After defeating the visitors 5-1 a day earlier, India failed to carry forward the momentum as they went down 4-1 in the second leg.

However, the solitary goal scored by skipper Rani was enough to help India secure a berth in the Olympics next year.

USA started the match on positive note, earning two penalty corners in the starting phase of the contest. However, the visitors failed to convert those set-pieces on both occasions.

The Americans’ positive intent soon bore fruit when they took the lead in the fifth minute through a brilliant penalty corner deflection goal by Amanda Magadan.

The visitors put up an excellent display as they doubled the lead a few minuted later as US skipper Sharkey pounced on a defensive error and punished the Indian defenders by slamming the ball into the bottom right corner.

They then went on to score the third goal of the night five minutes into the second quarter when Alyssa Parker fired high into the net after receiving a pass from Danielle Grega after the India defence was caught off guard yet again.

Two minutes later, India secured back-to-back penalty corners but wasted both the opportunities. Moments later India’s Navneet Kaur received a yellow card, as USA created another chance for Amanda Magadan, who made no mistake, smashing powerfully into the bottom left corner for her second goal of the game to wipe out the four-goal deficit.

The third quarter started on a scrappy note as both the teams struggled to retain possession. After the change of ends, India looked to get their acts together to some extent. Five minutes into the quarter, India secured a penalty corner but Gurjit Kaur’s effort went wide of the post.

After the change of ends, India showed signs of coming back into game, but USA defended in numbers and to keep the hosts at bay as the third quarter ended with the visitors leading 4-0 and the aggregate scoreline standing at 5-5.

India secured a penalty corner in the 43rd minute but Gurjit’s flick once again failed to trouble USA goalkeeper Kelsey Bing. Locked at 5-5 on aggregate scoreline, it took an inspirational strike from Rani in the 48th minute from a loose ball to reduce the margin and hand India the vital lead.

The Americans were awarded a penalty corner four minutes from full time but the decision was overturned after India went for the referral.

In the first leg on Friday, dragflicker Gurjit Kaur struck a brace while Lilima Minz, Sharmila Devi, and Navneet Kaur scored one goal each. USA’s consolation goal came from a penalty stroke converted by Erin Matson in the 54th minute.

India are currently ranked ninth in the world.

(with PTI inputs)

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