Women's Asian Champions Trophy: India top table with thrilling hockey, but consistency is key in knockouts

India have won five games on the trot to top the table at the Women's Asian Champions Trophy. Hockey India

Five matches, five wins, 21 goals scored, three conceded and a top-of-the-table finish.

The India women's hockey team has made it to the semifinal of the Jharkhand Women's Asian Champions Trophy in Ranchi with a perfect record. They scored seven past Thailand (7-1), five each against Malaysia (5-0) and South Korea (5-0) and secured close wins (2-1) over China and Japan.

Here's what worked for the team so far and what to watch out for before they play South Korea in the semifinal on Saturday:

India show dominance and grit to remain unbeaten

The likes of China, South Korea and Japan were expected to give a tough fight to India considering all four teams are more or less on the same level. What has really stood out was how India won close matches against Asian Games gold medallists China and later Japan while also beating the other teams comfortably.

Against China, India took a 2-0 lead but came under immense pressure in the final two quarters. China scored a goal later, but India's defence weathered multiple attacks to keep a check on the scoreline and eked out a 2-1 victory. It was not the same pattern against Japan, this time India pushing hard for a winner after their opponents equalised to make it 1-1. The second goal came from Sangita Kumari in the final quarter after a series of penalty corners, and India managed to hold on to the 2-1 lead for the next 13 minutes to secure another win.

While India's attacking prowess against Thailand and South Korea were impressive, it's the tough wins against China and Japan that would've pleased head coach Janneke Schopman more.

Sangita Kumari, a complete forward

A hat trick against Thailand, goals against Malaysia and Japan and a couple of lovely assists against South Korea. Playing in front of her home crowd, Sangita has shown that she's more than ready to lead the Indian attack for the next decade.

The goals were always there in her, be it intelligent deflections, like the winner against Japan, or fierce tomahawks, like the one she scored against Malaysia. But it was against the Koreans that the 21-year-old showed how much she improved as a player. The first goal India scored via Salima Tete was brilliantly set up by Sangita, who collected the ball outside the circle, dribbled past a couple of defenders and played the clinching pass. She assisted again in the match, when she had the chance to shoot with plenty of space around her, but instead passed it to Salima again who scored her second of the night.

Schopman's tactics are working

Coming into the tournament, Schopman was under pressure considering her team missed their first shot at qualification for the Paris Olympics by not winning the gold at the Asian Games. It could've gone wrong in the group stage itself but she has now guided the team to a first-place finish.

While maintaining the broader characteristics of the team, like high pressing and quick transitions, Schopman made a small change, in terms of playing Salima more centrally. Salima, who is one the best on the wings because of pace and control, proved to be equally effective playing through the middle. A smashing goal from the centre against China ensured India take a 2-0 lead and then she came up with two lovely finishes, running from the middle, against Korea to maintain her goal-scoring form.

What to watch out for against South Korea?

The good news is that everything's working for the team. The not-so-good news is that they are still two matches away from the trophy. Having played such good hockey over the last five matches, a semifinal loss will be crushing for the team.

Despite a big win over the Koreans in the group stage, there's not a big gulf in quality between both the teams. Just last month, India and South Korea played out a 1-1 draw at the Asian Games. Korea made it to the semifinal and finished with a silver medal while India won bronze.

At the Women's Asia Cup last year, it was the same South Korea that defeated India in the semifinal. India have momentum on their side and confidence in their stride. Schopman will be aware that her opponents will come hard in the semifinal.

In short, India need to keep the consistency going and avoid costly mistakes. Savita Punia, India captain, spoke how they didn't play their game against China which resulted in a 4-0 defeat in the Asian Games semifinal. It cannot be the same story again, where one bad game, a few mistakes on the pitch, will end the prospect of a final. So far, the hockey they have played is deserving of a trophy but there are still two matches to go.

Saturday's semifinal lineup

China vs Japan at 6 pm

India vs South Korea at 8:30 pm