They trailed 1-3 at half-time before they scripted their finest comeback victory.
Hyderabad: Salaam India. The long wait is over. India won an Olympic medal after a long gap of 41 years. It was a pulsating contest and India emerged 5-4 winner against the strong Germany to end the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze to their credit.
They trailed 1-3 at half-time before they scripted their finest comeback victory. They showed that mental toughness that was lacking in the Indian team all these years. They were put into severe test when the Germans had built a big 3-1 lead. But they fought back and scored four goals in succession. The next challenge came when Germany made a frenetic last-ditch effort but the defence, led by the indomitable PR Sreejesh, warded off the threat, the goalkeeper saving the last-minute penalty corner also.
The start was horrendous. India conceded an early goal as Timur Oruz (2nd) shot home. But India did not get cowed down and restored parity soon through Simranjeet Singh. He tricked the German defence with his turn, speed and skill to put the ball in. A Surender blunder on the left led to German’s second and goal as Niklas Wellen (24th) banged in and the next minute Benedikt Furk (25th) beat Sreejesh to be ahead at 3-1.
Simranjeet was a threat with his speedy runs. It led to India getting a penalty corner and Harmanpreet Singh’s hit rebounded off goalkeeper Alexander Stadle’s pads before an unmarked Hardik Singh shot home from close.
India continued their good work as the midfield of Hardik, skipper Manpreet Singh and Nilakanta became active. Indians were awarded a penalty corner and Harmanpreet Singh blasted home. They equalized 3-3 when a German player pushed Mandeep Singh in the `D’ resulting in a penalty stroke and Rupinder Pal Singh made no mistake with a powerful strike to level the scores.
Showing fine opportunism, Simranjeet nudged it home after a pass from Gurjant. A rattled German put pressure on the Indian defence. But the gutsy Indians stood vigilant although they conceded a fourth goal through a short corner before Sreejesh did the final act.
(The author, N Mukesh is a three-time Hockey Olympian)
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