The Indian men's hockey team has qualified for the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics with an emphatic 3-1 win against Great Britain.
Manpreet and co will now take on world champions Belgium in the second semifinal on Tuesday.
The Belgian Red Lions came from behind to sink Spain 3-1 after trailing the Red Sticks by a 0-1 margin before the first half.
Indian excel in every department
The Indian strikers came into their own in the big match and troubled the GB defense early. It allowed Dilpreet Singh to score through a deft push that slipped past goalkeeper Ollie Payne's legs.
The early goal allowed the Indians to seize the initiative and GB were often found wanting in and around the attacking circle. Their final pass failed to reach their intended target.
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Graham Reid's boys showed their class in midfield with vital interceptions and cut off space for the GB strikers. It resulted in Danny Kerry's team failing to make good on their superior possession.
Gurjant Singh's goal, which came as a flash barely seconds after the first-quarter break, snuffed the fight out of GB. They appeared stunned by the reverse and failed to come into their own until midway into the third quarter.
A flurry of PCs kept the pressure on Sreejesh and the PC defense finally resulted in the redoubtable Sam Ward rediscovering his creativity at a time when his team needed it the most.
The Indians very nearly lost their heads when they were down to ten men after skipper Manpreet Singh picked up a yellow card in the final quarter. However, Hardik's 57th minute goal, which displayed his outrageous talent, ensured there were no more hiccups along the way.
With the historic win, the Men in Blue have essentially silenced their detractors, who often claim the team cannot handle the big-match pressure.
The Indians last reached an Olympic semifinal in Munich in 1972 where they lost 0-4 to Pakistan.
Although V Bhaskaran's side won gold in 1980, the field hockey competition in Moscow did not involve a semifinal match and the Indians made it to the final after the round-robin group matches.
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Great Britain appeared to be short of ideas in patches and seemed to lack urgency, especially in the second quarter. However, the manner in which the Indian midfield policed the center of the pitch needs to be commended.
The Indians face an even greater challenge when they take on Belgium on Tuesday. They will be encouraged by the outstanding performance of the team in every single department.
Sreejesh's contribution to the win was immense as always. The Indian goalkeeper stopped two certain goals - one in the 12th minute as he deftly stopped the ball at the goalmouth. The second was when he padded away a PC before Sam Ward finally scored at the end of the third quarter.
The win against Great Britain will rank as one of the finest ever by an Indian hockey team in recent times and much is now expected of the team as they remain within range of a podium finish in Tokyo.
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