India’s women hockey team has qualified for next year’s Rio Olympic Games without playing a match. For a while, India’s fortunes were controlled by factors other than the real field action. On August 30, 2015, England defeated Spain in the Euro-Hockey Championships held at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Since Netherlands had earlier defeated Germany, the final was played between two national teams, which had already qualified for Rio. Therefore, one spot was freed up from the Olympic quota and that went to India. In the Hockey World League at Antwerp in June-July 2015, Indian women needed to finish among the top three teams for automatic qualification at Rio but that didn’t happen as they finished fifth after the loss to Netherlands in the quarterfinal. Therefore, as per qualification rules, India needed help from others in order to seal their place for Rio. India’s chances got a boost, when Brazil failed to qualify for the Pan American Games and one spot got freed. Incidentally, England also won the European Championship in a rousing late-surge against the Netherlands.
It has been 36 years since Indian women’s hockey squad last played in the Olympic Games. It was in the Moscow Games of 1980 that Indian women’s hockey team last participated and finished at a creditable fourth spot. In the intervening years, Indian women’s hockey team failed to make the Olympic grade. After finishing 5th at Antwerp’s Hockey World League, India came in contention but their chances were dictated by the performances of other nations in world-wide tournaments, which served as qualification pedestals.
By virtue of England reaching the final of the Euro-hockey championship, an Olympic berth became available and it has gone to India as per the rules of qualification. England had a great tournament at home soil, where they beat Spain in the semifinal and Netherlands in the final. In the championship match, England produced an incredible late comeback after trailing 0-2 until eight minutes were left in the regulation time. The Dutch were on top with a sustained onslaught but England’s goalkeeper Maddie Hinch came up with the performance of her life. After the Dutch dominance, England made a rousing come-back in the last quarter and scored two goals to make the score 2-2. In the shoot-out that ensued, Hinch was the heroine as she denied Netherlands and England won the Euro-hockey championship for the first time after 24 years.
India was not affected by the result of Euro-hockey championship since any victor would have yielded them the Olympic berth anyway. Now 10 quota places in women’s hockey at Rio are already confirmed. The other nine teams are; Korea as Asian Games champions; Argentina as Pan-Am Games champions; England; China, Germany, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and USA. The remaining two teams will complete the quota of 12 after the 2015 Africa Cup for Nations in Egypt and 2015 Oceania Cup in New Zealand in November are concluded. India will likely play their first match on August 7, 2016.