TOKYO: Tokyo Olympics 2020: India men’s hockey ends 41-year Olympic drought

TOKYO: Tokyo Olympics 2020: India men’s hockey ends 41-year Olympic drought

TOKYO: India have beaten Germany 5-4 to
to win an Olympic medal in men’s hockey after 41 years. The thrilling victory
is the result of a young Indian side’s dogged performance, writes sports
journalist Harpal Singh Bedi.

is nothing” legendary boxer Muhammad Ali once said.

Indian men’s hockey team relived that epic quote as they staged an incredible
fightback – from being down 1-3 they went on to beat Germany 5-4 to claim an
Olympic bronze.

lost only two matches in Tokyo and the teams they lost to – Australia and
Belgium – are playing each other in the final.

showing offers hope after decades for men’s hockey. The team has won eight
Olympic gold medals, making it the most successful team ever, but the last gold
was won in 1980 in Moscow.

But the
path to the bronze in Tokyo was somewhat of a rollercoaster.

finished second in its group with four wins, some more emphatic than others
(3-2 against New Zealand, 3-0 against Spain, 3-1 against Argentina and 5-3
against Japan) and one humiliating 1-7 defeat at the hands of Australia.

beat Great Britain 3-1 in the quarter-finals, sparking fresh hope, but lost 2-5
to Belgium in the semi-final.

win, however, was an edge-of-the-seat affair. Simranjeet Singh’s two goals
(17′, 34′), and one apiece from Hardik Singh (27′), Harmanpreet Singh (29′) and
Rupinder Pal Singh (31′) were just as crucial as PR Sreejesh’s outstanding
saves in the dying seconds of the game.

forwards have certainly been efficient and impressive, but it was Sreejesh who
scripted India’s medal-winning journey. If not for him, the team would have
struggled much more to make it this far.

took time to settle down in the quarter-final against a lacklustre Great
Britain before eventually scoring a 3-1 win. A stunning goal from Hardik Singh
in the last moments came after some nail-biting moments.

played the first quarter with incredible pace and displayed their intent to put
India on the back foot right from the start. Florian Fuchs set up Timur Oruz to
score Germany’s first goal in the second minute of the match.

second quarter saw a flurry of goals being scored between the two teams. While
India equalised in the 17th minute – a brilliant counter-attack led by
Nilakanta Sharma who made a delightful pass to Simranjeet Singh who put it past
German goalie Alexander Stadler.

The goal
put India back in the game But Germany earned back the lead in the 24th minute,
and then pumped another goal within the next minute when defender Surender
Kumar lost the ball to a German double tackle inside the circle.

But India
bounced back soon enough with Simranjeet Singh earning a penalty corner in the
27th minute. Rupinder Pal took the flick and Hardik Singh was quick to take a
rebound which he put past the keeper.

narrowing the German lead to 3-2, India played to their potential – two more
penalty corners were converted to goals. Then India scored again in the 34th
minute with another goal from Simranjeet Singh.

The final
quarter was tense with Germany scoring a goal off a penalty corner in the 48th
minute. The last few minutes were absolutely thrilling with Germany pushing for
an equaliser. Germany won their 13th penalty corner with less than 10 second on
the timer but India’s defence held on and Sreejesh was on target to bring home
the bronze.

is the moment I have been waiting for” said Olympian Harbinder Singh who
played a crucial role in India’s win over Pakistan in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
“The boys were simply fantastic.”

Ajit Pal
Singh, captain of the India’s only World Cup-winning team, called this win
“nothing short of miracle”.

boys made us proud, I am too emotional, I wanted to see Indian on the Olympic
podium,” he said.

hockey has been neglected for a long time as support for cricket, India’s most
popular and profitable sport, soared.

But the
2008 Olympics, when India failed to even qualify, were a wake-up call. The
hockey federation took crucial decisions, from hiring foreign coaches to
injecting more money, and that may be finally paying off.

Indian women’s hockey team too made history by making it to the semi-finals for
the first time – although they lost and are now playing for third place.

is a sense of self-belief among the youngsters. They don’t concede goals in the
dying minutes. They fight back even if they are trailing. They don’t give up
easily,” Singh said, adding that this is a discernible change in Indian
hockey in recent years.

And it’s
a change that many hope will last.

are playing better with confidence and the fresh legs are producing
results” said former India captain, Zafar Iqbal.

of Thursday’s win, he said, “The boys displayed tremendous resilience
-,they played toe-to-toe with the rivals and lasted the full match on such a
fast-paced turf. My salute to them.”

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