Tokyo: Striker Vandana Katariya scored a historic hat-trick to keep alive the Indian women's hockey team's quarterfinals hopes in the Olympics with a fighting 4-3 victory over lower-ranked South Africa in its must-win final group match here on Saturday.
Vandana (4th, 17th, 49th minutes) achieved a rare feat by becoming the first Indian woman hockey player to score a hat-trick in the Olympics.
Young Neha Goyal (32nd) was the other goal getter as the Rani Rampal-led side registered its second consecutive win at the Games.
South Africa's goals came from the sticks of Tarryn Glasby (15th), skipper Erin Hunter (30th) and Marizen Marais (39th).
With two wins from their final two pool matches, India have finished the group stages with six points from five games.
By virtue of this win, India have jumped to the fourth position in Pool A, but Ireland still have a chance to leapfrog the Indians.
India's fate now depends on the outcome of the last Pool A match between Great Britain and Ireland.
"Today's game was really tough, South Africa gave us a really good fight. They converted their chances in the circle. Defensively, we can be a lot better," skipper Rani said.
India's chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said, "We gave too many goals away, and I think we can score more goals, that is the main thing for today. We did what we had to do, we had to win this match, and we did.
India eye semis berth in four decades
It was in the year 1980 at the Moscow Games, Indian hockey team was in semis, and come Sunday August 1, Graham Reid coached side have a chance, as history beckons the Indian men, in the quadrennial sporting extravaganza after a hiatus of 41 years when they take on Great Britain in the quarterfinal here on Sunday.
With an unprecedented eight gold medals in its kitty, Indian hockey has a rich history at the Olympics with its last triumph coming way back in the 1980 Moscow Games.
Since then, Indian hockey has witnessed a downward slump as the past masters of the game registered its best finish -- a fifth place -- in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Having failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games and finishing last in the 2016 Rio Olympics, hockey, as a sport, in the country went from bad to worse. But the last five years witnessed a significant improvement in India's performances, which propelled them to the third place in the world rankings.
Since taking over the reigns of the side two years ago, Australian Graham Reid has brought a sense of self belief, bonding and confidence among the Indian players, which was lacking as they often used to wilt under pressure despite having the requisite skills to be world beaters.
Barring the 1-7 defeat against Australia, the Indians so far had a perfect Olympic campaign having registered four wins out of five matches to finish second in Pool A behind the Kookaburras.
Great Britain, on the other hand, finished third in Pool B with two wins, as many loses and one draw.
Beyond doubt, India's confidence should be on sky high having registered three consecutive wins after the demoralising defeat against Australia.
Going by rankings too, India should start as favourites against the world no.5 Great Britain.
The Indians have been impressive upfront, creating numerous scoring chancesso far in the Games but the forwardline being led by Mandeep Singh needs to get their act together.
Known for his quick reflexes inside the opposition circle, Mandeep, in particular, had turned out to be a disappointment so far but the likes of Simranjeet Singh and Gurjant Singh have tried to make up for him.
India's strong areas so far in the competition has been its midfield which comprises the likes of skipper Manpreet Singh and Nilkanata Sharma.
India would be hoping its biggest strength -- dragflickers Rupinder Pal Singh, vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar -- rise to the occasion.
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