Tokyo: The dreams of billions of hockey fans came true when India bagged a historic bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics, beating Germany 5-4 in an edge-of-the-seat thriller to claim its first medal in 41 years that will hopefully revive the sport’s fortunes in a country that is considered the spiritual home of the game.
India fought back brilliantly from a two-goal deficit (1-3) to score four goals in four minutes just around half-time for a sensational victory that would remind fans of the glory days when the Indians were a force to reckon with in world hockey.
India last won an Olympic medal in 1980 — a gold in Moscow. On Thursday, Manpreet Singh’s team overcame four decades of disappointments as it captured a well-deserved bronze medal to take India’s tally in Olympic Games hockey competitions to 12 medals — eight gold, one silver and three bronze, surpassing Germany, with whom they were tied at 11 (4 gold, 3 silver, 4 bronze).
It was India’s fourth medal in the Tokyo Olympics after one silver and three bronze. Weightlifter Saikhom Mirabai Chanu won the (silver medal while shuttler PV Sindhu and boxer Lovlina Borghain claimed the other two bronze medals.
Simranjeet Singh (17th, 34th) scored a brace of goals while Hardik Singh (27th min), Harmanpreet Singh (29th min), and Rupinderpal Singh (31st min) scored a goal apiece for India while for Germany Timur Cruz (2nd min), Niklas Wellen (24th min), Benedict Furk (25th min) and Lukas Windfeder (48th min) were on target.
India unleashed a four-goal blitz in four minutes as they came roaring back after being pinned down 1-3 by the Germans who started aggressively and created good pressure by going full press from the start itself.
But the Indians took control of the midfield, capitalised on the gaps created by the hard-pressing Germans, and counter-attacked brilliantly, cutting the German defence to shreds in those four minutes that left the opponents shocked.
Till that time, it looked like Tobias Hauke’s side had taken control of the match as they opened the scoring in the second minute of their first attack and then scored twice within a minute as they took control of the proceedings with a 3-1 lead.
But the Indians were not done yet. They scored two goals of their own in the 27th and 29th minute through Hardik and Harmanpreet Singh, the latter powering a brilliant drag-flick into the German goal, capitalising on swift counter-attacks. The score was 3-3 at half-time and both teams had a lot to play for.
The Indians continued with the momentum in the third quarter and a minute after the restart, earned a penalty stroke when Mandeep Singh was brought down by Oruz in the shooting circle. Rupinderpal Singh’s push had too much power for German goalkeeper Alexander Stadler, who guessed the direction but could not get down fast enough to stop it.
India made things more difficult for Germany when Simranjeet Singh was on target again in the 34th minute after he was set up by Gurjant Singh, who made a good run to the goal-line and sent a minus ball inside the circle.
The Germans pulled one goal back with Windfeder converting a penalty corner in the 48th minute and India survived some anxious moments when Germany earned a penalty corner in the dying minutes of the match. PR Sreejesh, who has stood like a rock throughout the match pulling off many saves, blocked Windfeder’s attempt and the Indians jumped in celebration as the clock ran out.
Sreejesh, ecstatic after winning the bronze medal in his third Olympics, climbed on to the top of the goal post to celebrate as his teammates ran around the ground, hugging and congratulating each other.
Earlier, India made a slow start and were down a goal within two minutes as Germany went ahead when Timur Oruz shot home an opportunistic field goal. Florian Fusch made a run on the left flank and sent a ball into the shooting circle for Oruz to deflect it through Sreejesh’s legs to make it 1-0.
India responded immediately and made it 1-1 when Simranjeet Singh, who came in after Lalit Upadhyay was left out of the 16-man squad by coach Graham Reid, capitalised on some great work by Hardik Singh who stole the ball. Hardik gave it to Nilakanta Sharma, who set up Simranjeet with a superb long pass down the centre of the shooting circle.
But Germany scored two goals in quick succession, capitalising on defensive errors by the Indians to make it 3-1. They struck twice within two minutes, Wellen made it 2-1 when Hardik lost the ball near the shooting circle and a minute later Furk was on target when Indian defender Surinder Kumar delayed in clearing the ball and was dispossessed by a German forward (3-1 for Germany).
But the lead was short-lived as India responded immediately and launched a blitzkrieg of attacks that sealed the victory eventually.