India put up a collective show to stun four-time champions South Korea 2-1 and clinch their maiden Women's Junior Hockey Asia Cup in Kakamigahara on Sunday. (More Hockey News)
Annu and Neelam scored for India, while Park Seo Yeon was the lone goal scorer for Korea.
After a barren first quarter, India got going with a 22nd-minute goal by Annu from a penalty corner.
Annu made amends for her miss in the semifinal against Japan, as she stepped up in style to beat the goalkeeper and give India the lead against the run of play.
South Korea took three minutes to bring it level when Park Seo Yeon struck from the right following a brilliant surge from the right.
Neelam struck powerfully to the low right of the South Korean goalkeeper to help India regain the lead in the 41st minute.
India held on to their slender lead in the third quarter to seal the issue.
South Korea had a lot of chances with India generously giving them PCs one after the other, but they failed to convert.
Before this, India's best-ever finish in the tournament was in the 2012 edition in Bangkok when they entered the final of the continental showpiece for the first time, only to lose to China 2-5.
Indian captain Preeti who was named Player-of-the-Match said they had their strategy in place following a 1-1 draw against the Koreans in the round-robin stage.
"We were acutely aware of the specific areas we needed to excel in order to overcome the Koreans," Preeti said.
"The final match brought about a considerable amount of nerves. However, we knew that as a team, we have to play our best game to achieve something special and that’s exactly what we did. We are elated to make our nation proud,” she added.
India started the game on an attacking note by winning a penalty corner in the opening minute of the game, but they failed to capitalise on it.
However, South Korea shifted the momentum in their favour by counter-attacking and controlling the possession.
They also won an early penalty corner, but Neelam made a goal-line clearance to deny Korea from taking the lead. Despite both teams playing an attacking game, the first quarter ended goalless.
South Korea stuck to their attacking approach in the second quarter as well, thus, pushing India on the backfoot.
Korea were also awarded quite a few penalty corners, however, India not only stood strong in defence to keep the opposition’s attackers at bay, but also put Korea under pressure by taking the lead through Annu who calmly converted a penalty stroke.
However, India’s lead didn’t last long as Seoyeon scored the equaliser for South Korea through a well-placed shot from inside the D.
The second quarter didn’t witness any more goals as both teams went into the half-time break with the score levelled at 1-1.
The second-half of the match started with South Korea focused on keeping the possession, while the Indian team switched to counter-attacking and it paid off as Neelam brilliantly converted a penalty corner to put India in front as the third quarter ended with the score 2-1 in the favour of the Indian team.
In order to protect their lead, India shifted their focus on defending and controlling the tempo of the game by keeping possession in the fourth quarter, while, on the other hand, South Korea made some forced errors and misdirected passes in their desperation of finding an equaliser.
HI ANNOUNCES CASH REWARDS
Hockey India has declared a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh for each player while the support staff will receive Rs 1 lakh for their splendid show.
India finished unbeaten in the tournament and also secured a spot in the Women's Junior World Cup 2023 slated in Chile later this year.
“We are filled with immense pride as the Indian Junior Women's team clinched their maiden Junior Asia Cup, leaving us all in awe.
"It will serve as a strong foundation for their upcoming challenge at the Junior World Cup later this year," Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey said.