New Delhi: The Indian women's hockey team scraped past Italy 1-0 in their last pool match here Friday to take on South Africa in Saturday's final of the 2012 London Olympic qualifier.
Ritu Rani struck the winner in the 55th minute off a rebound from Jaspreet Kaur's drag-flick at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.
India have to blame themselves for waiting too long to break the deadlock. They wasted five penalty corners before getting their act together in the sixth.
It was a crucial match for both teams. India needed a win while a draw was enough for the Italians to take them through. With the win India finished second behind World No.12 South Africa (13) with 10 points.
India were lucky to win as the Italians adopted a defensive approach and tightly marked the forwards inside the circle.
India, World No.13, had to toil hard against Italy, 19th in FIH rankings. Despite pressing hard from the start, they were scrappy as the links failed to combine well with the forwards.
They came close to scoring in the ninth minute when they earned their first penalty corner.
But Italian goalkeeper Roberta Lilliu made two brilliant saves off consecutive rebounds from Jasjeet Kaur Handa and Kirandeep Kaur.
India made the most use of the right-flank with Yendala Soundarya building up the attack. But there was hardly any coordination between forwards Poonam Rani, Ritu Rani and Rani Rampaul.
India squandered another chance in the 20th minute after Deepika Thakur beat defender Celina Traverso and made a solo run down the centre. But Roberta thwarted the Indian shot.
Poonam picked up from the rebound but her powerless strike went waste.
Indian earned four penalty corners in the first half. India's recurring failure was poor penetration in the circle and bad shots at the goals.
Finally a defensive blunder by Italy allowed India to sneak in.
An unmarked Ritu on the left scooped off a rebound from Jasjeet to seal Italy's fate. The Italians complained the ball was too high but the umpires were not impressed.
Indian women are trying to qualify for the Olympics after 32 years. They last played in 1980 in Moscow, where the men's team won the last of eight Olympic golds.
Earlier, tournament favourites South Africa sailed into the final with a 4-1 win over Canada.
In Saturday's other classification matches, Canada and Poland play for the 5-6 places while Italy and Ukraine will fight for the 3-4 places.