India’s women’s hockey team returned to the podium in the Commonwealth Games after a 16-year gap, beating New Zealand in a tie-breaker in the bronze-medal playoff on Sunday in Birmingham. India’s last Commonwealth Games medal in the women’s game had come in Melbourne 2006.
India captain and goalkeeper Savita Punia starred for India in the shootout, saving two penalties and forcing one Kiwi attacker to miss the target to ensure another attacker did not complete her attempt in the allotted time.
The tie-breaker was necessitated after New Zealand scored an equaliser with barely 18.5 seconds remaining in the match to level the scores at 1-1. However, unlike in the semi-final, where India suffered a shoot-out defeat to Australia, the team showed mental strength to fight back and record a win despite Sangita Kumari missing her initial attempt.
Earlier, Salima Tete had put India ahead with an opportunistic backhanded tap-in from the far post. The move began on the right. However, the New Zealand goalkeeper blocked Navneet Kaur’s initial shot and the ball fell to an unmarked Sharmila Devi, but she failed to connect as Tete made the run behind her to score.
It was Tete’s third goal of the tournament. Since falling behind, New Zealand piled on the pressure in search of an equaliser and even had a goal disallowed in the third quarter. However, India never went defensive despite defending brilliantly.
The only time India had to alter the strategy was in the final two minutes when Lalremsiami was yellow carded for an infringement. Down to 10 players, the Kiwis sensed an opportunity, earning a penalty corner with 28.5 seconds left to go. From the drag-flick, New Zealand earned a penalty stroke as the ball hit Navneet’s foot in front of goal.
Olivia Merry converted from the spot to force a shootout. Sonika and Navneet found the net for India in the tie-breaker, while Sangita and Neha Goyal missed. New Zealand, however, took only one chance.
The medal will come as a reprieve, especially for some senior players and coach Janneke Schopmann.