Donghae City (South Korea), May 13: Young forward Navneet Kaur fired a hat-trick as India began their title defence at the Women’s Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament in an emphatic fashion, registering a 4-1 crushing win over Japan here on Sunday. Navneet starred in India’s win with goals in the seventh, 25th and 55th minutes. Anupa Barla (53rd) was the other goal scorer for India, who were playing their first match under head coach Sjoerd Marijne’s second stint in charge.
India were dominant right from the start as they displayed a well-strategised attack to break the strong Japanese defence at the Sunrise Stadium. An early chance came when forward Vandana Katariya and Lilima Minz worked in tandem to create space in the striking circle. It was Navneet who picked up an assist from Vandana to send the ball past the goalkeeper, fetching India a 1-0 lead in the seventh minute. India played with speed, kept the ball possession and stayed consistent as they kept up the pressure on Japan. Good defence, led by skipper Sunita Lakra, ensured Japan didn’t find too many chances in the circle.
Meanwhile, Navneet showcased her attacking potential as she drove into the 25-yard mark and assisted experienced forward Vandana to drive into the circle. Vandana’s clever return of the ball from the right flank to an unmarked Navneet at the top of the circle saw her score a splendid goal doubling India’s lead to 2-0 in the 25th minute.
India continued to keep up the momentum into the third quarter which was disrupted by rain. Three minutes into the third quarter, India won back-to-back penalty corners but both Deep Grace Ekka and Gurjit Kaur could not convert. Japan too won three back-to-back penalty corners this quarter but couldn’t beat the experienced India goalkeeper Savita. India’s third goal came off a brilliant assist by Udita to Anupa Barla who was impeccable in her effort to pick up the ball and beat a Japanese defender to send the ball into the net with a fierce hit in the 53rd minute.
Two minutes later, Navneet completed her hat-trick as India got a 4-0 lead. The goal came off a counter attack when Japan missed their opportunity to score off a penalty corner in the 55th minute. Navneet took the ball out of India’s half, passed it to Udita until she could position herself to strike the ball past the Japanese goalkeeper. Though in the 58th minute, Aki Yamada scored a consolation goal for Japan, it did little damage to India’s feat.
Nevneet was named player-of-the-match. “It was an important match to win because a good start always gives confidence to play better in the next matches to come. This is my first player-of-the-match award in an international arena, and I am very happy about it,” Navneet said in a Hockey India (HI) statement. “In the absence of our key striker Rani Rampal, there was more responsibility on us to create chances and I am happy that our team did really well. Our target is to win this tournament so that we can carry the winning spirit into the Women’s World Cup.”India’s next match will be against a formidable China on Tuesday.