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Heartbreak for India after losing shootout in bronze playoff

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India led 2-1 with just over 90 seconds left in the junior women’s hockey World Cup bronze playoff, but England equalised before winning the shootout; Netherlands won the title beating Germany Leading 2-1 with less than two minutes to go, India were within touching distance of bronze for the second time. The Salima Tete-led side was marching ahead, pressuring the England defence in the third position match of the FIH Hockey Women’s Junior World Cup at Potchefstroom, South Africa on Tuesday.

Then came the lapse. Knowing it was virtually their final chance, England strikers took advantage of a defensive slip by India and ran full tilt at the goal, with Claudia Swain (58th) finding the equaliser with less than 100 seconds left for the final hooter.

India’s misery was compounded when experienced players, including Olympians Tete and Sharmila Devi, failed to convert in the subsequent penalty shootout as India lost 0-3 (2-2 in full-time) to England, who like the bronze playoff at Tokyo 2020 (when they played as Great Britain) denied India another rostrum finish.

The Erik Wonink-coached outfit was clearly the better team with better possession (53%), more circle penetrations (24 to England’s 15) and shots at goal (10 to 8). But England delivered when it mattered with Katie Curtis, Swain and Maddie Axford scoring in the shootout. Sharmila, Sangita Kumari and Tete—albeit in controversial circumstances as the hooter possibly went off early—failed to score from their attempts.

“Revenge,” smiled England coach Simon Letchford after guiding his team to its first ever podium. Nine years ago, after losing the semi-final 3-0 to Netherlands (like 2022), the Sushila Chanu-led team had pipped England 3-2 (1-1) in the shootout.

But it wasn’t exactly déjà vu on Tuesday. Having failed to score in the semi-finals, both teams came out with renewed vigour, playing end-to-end from pushback. India’s better possession helped them earn successive penalty corners in the first quarter, but England goalkeeper Mila Welch was brilliant, saving both attempts. England, hammered 0-8 in the semis by Germany, regularly broke through the Indian midfield and defence despite less possession.

This resulted in Swain making a superb run from the midfield to almost put England ahead before she was halted by India vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary. But England didn’t have to wait long. Awarded a free-hit just outside the ‘D’, skipper Millie Giglio (18th) pushed the ball towards the goal in a half-hearted attempt. India goalkeeper Bichu Devi Kharibam, who had had a great tournament until then, tried kicking the ball away but missed and it went in between her legs to sound the board.

Determined to equalise, India counterattacked. Welch made a couple of solid saves, but could not stave off India for long as a rebound found Akshata Abaso Dekhale, who passed and forward Mumtaz Khan (21st) scored the leveller.

The exertion of two weeks of intense competition was showing as the pace of the game slowed in the third quarter. The tired bodies and minds gave way to errors and sloppy play from both teams. The English defence held fort despite India’s press but eventually wilted when Mumtaz (47th) pounced on a miss from Sangita, poached the ball to score her second of the day and eighth of the tournament to put India 2-1 ahead.

Though India kept exerting pressure, they were inviting it too as England also broke through the Indian defence to force three penalty corners, although they were all saved by Bichu. But the Swain goal moments from the hooter turned it into an anti-climax for India.

“We played well, especially in the second half, creating good opportunities. But only the result counts at the end. The development of the girls has been good. The steps they have taken have been great,” said Wonink.

Dutch triumph

Netherlands won their fourth title with a 3-1 victory over Germany in the final with Danique van der Veerdonk (7th) and Tessa Beetsma (34th, 44th) scoring. Sophia Schwabe (32nd) scored for Germany.

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