The Indian men’s hockey team won an Olympic medal after 41 years when they beat Germany 5-4 to secure bronze at the Tokyo Olympics 2021 on Thursday.
Staging a comeback for the ages, India overturned a 1-3 deficit to write a new chapter in Indian hockey history. The men's team realized their dream when the final whistle went off, with the score 5-4 in their favor.
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Matches are won by belief, talent, strategy and perseverance, and the Indian hockey team displayed glimpses of all these traits on Thursday. Although they were put on the backfoot in the first half, the team produced a performance to remember for ages in the second half.
It was the biggest match of Indian men’s hockey in the last four decades, and the 60 minutes that unfolded could well change the destiny of Indian hockey.
Germany started the match on an intense note, pressing high, and were rewarded with a goal in just a minute and a half. A scramble at the goalmouth, arising out of a Germany fee hit, helped Timur Oruz tap the ball beyond a grounded PR Sreejesh.
The early goal put India into aggressive mode and Manpreet Singh earned a penalty corner soon after. However, Rupinderpal Singh blazed his shot way above the goal and the Indian hockey team failed to convert their first set-piece opportunity of the match.
Christopher Ruhr could have doubled Germany’s lead soon after if not for a Harmanpreet Singh tackle and good reflexes from Sreejesh. The Germans continued to press hard with Johannes Grosse and Timur Oruz and getting half-chances. However, more than the agile Indian defense, it was Germany’s poor finishing that cost them.
Germany finished the first quarter with four back-to-back penalty corner opportunities, but an agile Sreejesh thwarted them all to ensure India’s deficit didn’t increase.
Indian hockey team strikes back
Simranjeet Singh brought India back on level terms with a brilliant finish early in the second quarter. The forward made sure he did justice to Nilakanta Sharma’s brilliance in the midfield, taking the long pass cleanly and unleashing a powerful reverse tomahawk that beat the German custodian.
The Indian men’s hockey team pulled up their socks in the second quarter, stitching long passes, getting on aggressive counter-attacks, and breaching the German citadel with more ferocity. However, a defensive lapse put the Indian men's hockey team in a deficit again.
Germany went on a counter on the left flank with Christopher Ruhr finding Niklas Wellen on cue in the ‘D’. The striker finished the job efficiently as a livid Sreejesh cussed the Indian defenders.
Benedikt Furk made it 3-1 in no time, as the German forwards double-teamed Nilakanta Sharma inside the circle. With no support from his teammates, Nilakanta Sharma lost the ball for Furk to score past Sreejesh with ease.
Hardik Singh pulled one back for India to make it 2-3. Harmanpreet’s drag-flick, arising out of a penalty corner, was saved, but Hardik tapped the rebound past the German goalkeeper.
Harmanpreet Singh restored parity at 3-3 soon after when he sent a ferocious drag-flick to the left of Alexander Stadler. The Indian hockey team went into the break with the upper hand.
Aggressive India stage a miraculous comeback
After the restart, India were awarded a penalty stroke when a foul was committed on Mandeep Singh. Rupinderpal Singh then smashed the resulting shot into the roof of the goal to make it 4-3 for India.
Soon after, Gurjant Singh and Simranjeet Singh combined well to put India in the driver's seat at 5-3. Gurjant took the ball inside the 'D', rounded a defender and sent a neat pass to Simranjeet, who flicked it past Alexander Stadler to stun the opponents.
The German hockey team couldn't score off a host of penalty corners as India held on to their lead. The Indian hockey team's defense stepped up their performance, a stark contrast from their display in the first half, to thwart all German attacks.
Germany made it 4-5 in the 48th minute when Lukas Windfeder sent a drag-flick, arising out of another set-piece, through Sreejesh's legs to the center of the goal.
Rupinderpal Singh then dribbled out of the defense in style and set up Amit Rohidas beautifully, who in turn fed Mandeep Singh. Mandeep was one-on-one with the German goalkeeper, but he delayed his tomahawk shot and India spilled a great opportunity to extend the lead.
The Germans tried everything in the end, including a variation off a penalty corner in the dying seconds. However, the Indian hockey team had enough fuel in their tank to go the distance and make their dream of an Olympic hockey medal a reality.