The Indian men’s hockey team finished their group stage on a high with a win against hosts Japan in the last match. India finished with 12 points from five games and ended in second position below Australia. Apart from the match against the Kookaburras, the Indians were spot on to win all other games convincingly.
We analyze Team India’s games and their performance in the group stages at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Match 1 – vs New Zealand
It wasn’t the best of starts for India as they defeated the Blacksticks 3-2. The eighth-ranked team in the world put up a strong fight and even managed to take the lead in the first quarter.
Although India bounced back and took a 3-1 lead, the match came to life when Jenness scored with a lovely finish past Sreejesh in the 43rd minute. New Zealand gave the Indian defense a run for its money as they earned ten penalty corners in the match but converted only one. Most of the time, first rusher Amit Rohidas was there to the rescue.
The biggest positive from the first match was PR Sreejesh and Harmanpreet's form. While Harmanpreet scored a brace, Sreejesh was at his best, calling loudly, settling his defense and desperate to make saves. After all, a win is a win, and India were happy to make a good start to their campaign.
Match 2 – vs Australia
This can be counted as one of the worst days in Indian hockey history.
Nobody expected India to win single-handedly but they were counted on to put up a good fight against the World No.1. However, the Men in Blue seemed clueless about what was happening as the Australians scored at will.
The team drastically failed to convert the drag flicks and the forwards were completely off the scene. Sreejesh tried his bit to keep India in the game, but received no support from anyone.
Graham Reid’s boys needed to look forward and dig deep to come out of the humiliating 7-1 defeat.
Fans all over the country were disappointed and everyone blamed team selection for bringing in inexperienced players in place of old warhorses. But from then on, the Indian men scripted a comeback that will be remembered for ages to come.
Match 3 – vs Spain
This was a do-or-die match for India. It wasn’t about India playing, but about the emotions of millions of fans sitting with expectations at home. Manpreet and team did everything needed to script a victory.
India left out forward Gurjant Singh and got in Simranjeet, who scored the first goal of the match for India. Spain earned a few PCs but Sreejesh and Amit showed their calm and composure under the bar to keep a clean sheet.
The strikers weren’t up to the mark but were looking like they were getting in shape. The biggest positive was Rupinder Pal coming to the party with his powerful drag flicks, scoring a brace as India blanked Spain 3-0. It looked like India had rightly regrouped themselves and were taking one match at a time for the quarterfinals.
Match 4 – vs Argentina
The Olympic champions hadn’t been in the best of their form. India again made a change, bringing in Varun Kumar in place of seasoned defender Birendra Lakra. The move paid rich dividends.
Varun opened the scoring for India in the second quarter as the first quarter saw many missed chances from both teams. The decision to give Varun a drag flick surprised the Argentine defenders to conceding the first goal. The strikers were in their best form, earning 8 PCs for India. India won the game 3-1.
The match statistics said it all. India dominated from the word go and didn’t give any space to the Argentines.
Match 5 – vs Japan
Japan were said to be the dark horses of the tournament but they failed to live up to that expectation after losing all their four group matches. India had already qualified for the quarterfinals and Japan had nothing to lose.
India won the match 5-3, with the result not affecting the standings. India rested star players Rupinder Pal Singh and Mandeep Singh for the match and got new scorers in the form of Gurjant, Shamsher and Nilakanta. This can boost India’s performance in the quarterfinals.
How Pool A Table looks after the group stage and what lies ahead for India
India lost many chances to score in the pool stage, but apart from the Australia game, they have got good results on their way to the quarters. They will face Great Britain in the round of 8.