Savita Punia's outstanding abilities on the turf combined with astute leadership skills capped off a successful Commonwealth Games 2022 (CWG 2022) for the Indian women's hockey team.
The Indian hockey team had a two-month long European sojourn, combining the FIH Pro League, the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games.
Bouncing back from an underwhelming FIH Women's World Cup campaign, where the team finished a lowly ninth, the Indian women's hockey team won the bronze medal at CWG 2022, coming on top in some cliff-hanging moments.
The Indian team took part in their last set of FIH Hockey Pro League matches in June in Belgium and the Netherlands, where they finished third.
Savita Punia said she was happy that the team finished the long European tour on a good note.
"It was a pretty long tour, there were ups and downs but it taught us a lot of things. We started the tour on a strong note by finishing third in our debut FIH Hockey Pro League campaign and then went through a rough patch during the World Cup.
"Finishing ninth was disappointing, but it was equally important to move ahead and take positive learnings from the campaign to focus on the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games," she told Hockey India.
The Indian captain said the CWG preparatory camp in Nottingham was a game changer.
"We had a short preparatory camp in Nottingham, where we introspected our performance and worked on our mistakes. We came in with a fresh mind and took one day at a time in Birmingham.
"I think team unity also helped us bounce back. The bond we share helps us maintain a positive atmosphere in the team, it helped us focus on the present moment and overcome the challenges thrown at us," Savita Punia added.
Savita Punia reflects on the magnitude of achievement
The Savita Punia-led team started their Commonwealth Games campaign with back-to-back wins against Ghana (5-0) and Wales (3-1) respectively but lost 1-3 to England in their third match.
They then registered a 3-2 win against Canada in their fourth match to finish second in Pool A.
The Indian team put up a good show against Australia in the semi-finals, but couldn't manage to get past them as they suffered a narrow 1-1 (0-3 shootout) loss. However, they responded to the setback in style and registered a thrilling 1-1 (2-1 shootout) win against New Zealand to win the bronze medal.
Savita Punia made three sensational saves in the shootout against New Zealand to help India end their 16-year wait for a medal at the prestigious Commonwealth Games.
Speaking about the achievement, the ace goalkeeper said:
"We are happy and proud of what we've achieved, and most importantly how we've achieved it. The defeat against Australia in the semi-final was hard to accept, we lost our morale.
"But it was our coach Janneke Schopman who motivated us and made us realize that we still have an opportunity to return home with a medal. So, all the credit for the medal goes to her. I am proud of how we as a team showed great character and never gave up till the last minute."
Savita Punia said that the team's next goal is to win the gold medal at the Asian Games to ensure direct qualification for the Paris Olympics 2024.
"We will spend some time at home with our families and come back to the camp with fresh minds. Our goal now is to win the gold medal at the Asian Games for the direct qualification for the Paris Olympics 2024.
"We take the one-year postponement as an opportunity to train for the Asian Games. We have significant time to prepare and approach step-by-step," Savita concluded.