Hyderabad: India are back on the Olympic hockey podium after a painful 41-year wait. Manpreet Singh’s intrepid warriors exorcised the demons to clinch the bronze medal in a 5-4 edge-of-the seat thriller against Germany at the Tokyo Games on Thursday, arguably one of the greatest moments in Indian team sport in the last few decades. The V Baskaran-led team was the last to secure an Olympic medal (gold) back in Moscow 1980.
This was certainly not a match for the weak-hearted, with emotions and tension running high. Fighting the reputation of conceding last-gasp goals, India owed their victory to ‘The Wall’, PR Sreejesh, who staved off a penalty corner in the dying seconds to deny Germany the equaliser, triggering tears of joy and ecstasy. An excited Sreejesh, easily the world’s best goalkeeper, clambered onto the post to celebrate a glorious chapter in Indian hockey.
Trailing 1-3 at the halfway mark, Graham Reid’s wards showed character and resilience, traits that have been their allies as they overcame hardships, uncertainty and fear in their Mission Tokyo journey. The Covid-19 pandemic confined the team to SAI Centre in Bengaluru for nearly a year and half. As Reid said, it was also the perfect platform to facilitate team bonding.
India’s resolve was tested after a humiliating 1-7 loss to Australia, but they showcased their mettle with three successive wins in Group A, before brushing Britain aside in the quarterfinals. They were well beaten by Belgium in the semis, but again bounced back in style, and will bring home the most celebrated bronze in sporting history.
Credit is also due to Hockey India for its unflinching support to coach Graham Reid and the players. A settled combination always has the confidence to deliver its best on the highest stage.
India’s strengths were myriad, highlighted by incredible self-belief, work ethic and discipline. They were fast, skillful and mentally tough, teasing and tormenting the Germans in a humdinger.
The goals by Simranjeet Singh and Hardik Singh will always remain fresh in memory. The tall Rohidas was impeccable in defence, dazzling as a rusher during penalty corners. The lethal drag-flicking combination of Rupinder Pal Singh and Harmanpreet Singh instilled fear in the opposition. Finally the big mental toughness and physical fitness were the two key big factors that made this Indian team a force to reckon with.
The Odisha Government deserves accolades for believing in Indian hockey but it was the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, through the Sports Authority of India, that played a big part in India’s preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. This Jai Ho moment could reinvigorate the sport in the country.
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