IMAGE: Lalremsiami celebrates after scoring their third goal against Canada. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
The Indian women’s hockey team survived some anxious moments before beating lower-ranked Canada 3-2 in its must-win Pool A match to qualify for the semifinals of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham on Wednesday.
The Indians looked in control of the match till the 22nd minute, having taken a 2-0 lead over their world no.15 opponents through goals from Salima Tete (3rd minute) and Navneet Kaur (22nd).
But the Canadians, then, produced a lion-hearted performance to level the scores through goals from Brienne Stairs (23rd) and Hannah Haughn (39th).
With England already assured of a semifinal berth from the pool with a 3-1 win over India on Tuesday, it was a do-or-die match for the Savita Punia-led side, with Canada needing just a draw to progress as they had a better goal difference.
Locked 2-2, Janneke Schopman’s girls responded brilliantly when Lalremsiami scored off a rebound, after a penalty corner in the 51st minute.
The Indians came out aggressive in the first quarter and dominated the proceedings from the start.
India’s attacking intent bore fruit as early as the third minute of the game when Salima scored off a rebound from a penalty corner.
Two minutes later, Lalremsiami missed a great opportunity to double the lead, her shot whizzing past the Canadian goal post.
Just seconds from the first quarter, Sangita Kumari showed great skills to carry the ball from the baseline and create a great chance for India, which was saved by Canadian goalkeeper Rowan Harris.
The Canadians showed more intent in the second quarter and managed to put the Indian defence under pressure on a few occasions.
But it was India who doubled their lead, in the 22nd minute, through Navneet Kaur, who shot in an open goal after receiving a pass from Lalremsiami.
A minute later Canada secured a penalty corner and reduced the deficit through Stairs.
In the 39th minute, Canada secured another penalty corner and Haughn equalised for her side.
With seconds left in the third quarter, Canada secured two more penalty corners, but India defended in numbers.
Facing elimination, Monika came close to handing India the much-needed goal in the 47th minute, but was denied by Canadian custodian Harris.
Two minutes later Neha Goyal pushed in from close range but the goal was disallowed as the ball hit Salima’s back stick.
The Indians kept up the pressure and secured a penalty corner in the 51st minute, and this time, Lalremsiami tapped in from a goal mouth melee after Gurjit Kaur’s shot was saved by the Canadian defence.
Two minutes from the hooter, India secured another penalty corner but failed to utilise it.
The Indians kept their defence in shape for the rest of the game to eke out the all-important win.