#3: India vs Australia, 2018 Hockey Champions Trophy, Breda
The Indian team under coach Harendra Singh had an inspiring Champions trophy in 2018 at Breda, Netherlands. India finished second at the end of the group matches beating Pakistan (4-0) and 2016 Olympic gold medal winners Argentina (2-1). The games against Belgium and Netherlands ended in closely-fought draws.
After narrowly edging out Netherlands for a place in the finals, the Indian team were set to face a formidable Australian team in the summit clash. Going into the finals, Australia had lost only one match and were looking as dangerous as ever. India had to play 60 minutes of high intensity, relentless and attacking hockey if they were to have any chance of securing gold.
India created plenty of chances inside Australia's circle. They earned their first penalty corner in the 7th minute after a successful video referral. Sloppy trapping of the ball saw them miss an opportunity to score first. The first quarter ended at 0-0, but India clearly had more chances to take the lead than Australia.
The cat-and-mouse game continued in the second quarter as well as both teams did not give the other an edge. The deadlock was eventually broken by Australia in the 24th minute as they scored their first goal thanks to Blake Govers. The Indian goalkeeper, Sreejesh, who had a dream tournament thus far had a momentary of lapse in concentration on which the deadly Australians capitalised.
However, India equalized with three and half minutes to the end of the third quarter. A series of one-touch passes and deflections saw India get back on level terms with Australia.
No goals were added in the final quarter as both teams failed to score the winner. Strong defending from both teams ensured that the scoreboard remained static. India's best chance of the quarter came in the 53rd minute, when the Indian forwards penetrated the Australian circle. A reverse stick shot from Dilpreet Singh was heading towards goal but was saved by the quick reflexes of Australian goalie Tyler Lowell.
The match ended 1-1 in regulation time and was heading towards a shoot-out to decide the winner. Australia held their nerves and went on to win the shoot-out 3-1 and clinch the gold medal. Although India fell short in the final hurdle, their inspiring performance is definitely worth praising.
It was refreshing to see an Indian team challenging Australia as the track record for India against Australia has been abysmal in recent times . Overall, the tournament was a good indicator of the team's fitness levels which was on par with the top foreign teams. Sreejesh won the Goalkeeper of the Tournament award, once again proving what a vital player he is for the team.
#2: India vs The Netherlands, 2015 Hockey World League, Raipur
The 2015 edition of Hockey World League Finals took place in the International Hockey stadium in Raipur, Chhattisgarh. India had performed poorly in the pool matches, having lost 2 out of the 3 games with one ending in a draw.
The tournament was structured in such a way that the performance in the pool stage does not affect the team's qualification for further rounds. Basically, all teams were assured a spot in the quarter-finals. The pool stage results only determined who you play in the QFs.
After defeating Great Britain in the quarter-finals and losing to Belgium in the semis, India had a shot at the bronze medal. Their opponents this time were the Netherlands. Team India were once again the underdogs going into the match, having lost to the same opponents 1 -3 in the pool match.
The Indian supporters were not disappointed in what turned out to be a thriller of a match. The first two quarters completely belonged to the Netherlands. Mirco Pruijser opened the scoring for the Dutch in the 9th minute with a field goal, taking advantage of sloppy defending by the Indians inside their circle.
Van der Schoot doubled the lead in the 25th minute with a powerful reverse stick shot that deposited the ball into the roof of the net. At half-time, Netherlands were 2-0 up and the game seemed to be slipping away from India.
Nine minutes into the third quarter, Ramandeep Singh produced a moment of magic as he made a full length dive to deflect the ball fed by Manpreet Singh into the back of the net. At the end of Q3, it was still Netherlands in the lead with India having a glimmer of a hope.
The final quarter produced extremely entertaining and thrilling hockey from both sides. Rupinder Pal Singh scored the equalizer for India in the 47th minute with a low drag-flick into the bottom right corner. India took the lead for the first time when Ramandeep deflected a long pass into the back of the net as the Dutch defenders were caught napping.
India extended their lead in the next few minutes and the scoreboard read 5-3 with just under 5 minutes left to play. India were nicely poised to clinch their first medal in Hockey World League. But the drama did not end there. Sloppy defending saw India leak goals in the final minutes as the Netherlands scored the equalizer in the dying moments of the match and the game was heading for a shootout. Notably 5 goals were scored inside 9 minutes in the final quarter!
The ever-reliable Indian goalie PR Sreejesh brought his best game in the shootout as he saved three penalties to help India win the shootout 3-2. The whole stadium erupted as India clinched their first medal (bronze) in an international tournament since 1982.
#1: India vs Pakistan, 2014 Asian Games, Incheon
The 2014 Asian Games gold medal win was the turning point for Indian Hockey. A gold medal in the Games also helped the team book a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics. India had last won a gold in Asian Games in 1998.
India entered the finals with a narrow 1-0 win over South Korea in the semis. Although, India were a better team than Pakistan in terms of rankings, they were wary of what Pakistan was capable of, as evidenced by Pakistan's 2-1 win over India in the group match.
With everything to play for, the India-Pakistan finals got underway. Pakistan scored early with Rizwan Sr. smashing a field goal in the 3rd minute. Pakistan were 1-0 up in the first quarter.
India responded with a well-targeted deflection by Kothajith Singh after Gurbaj Singh skillfully split the Pakistani defence to make it 1-1 in the 27th minute.
The third and fourth quarters saw no goals as both sides defended waves of attack from the other. With nothing to separate the teams, the 2014 Asian Games gold medal winner was to be decided by a penalty shootout.
Sreejesh made two fantastic saves to deny Pakistan a lead in the shootout. After 4 penalties were taken by either side, it was 3-2 in favour of India. The fifth and final penalty sealed it for India as Dharamvir Singh deceived the Pakistani goalkeeper to score the winning goal. India were Asian champions!
The Asian Games win provided the boost for Indian hockey to reach significant heights in the years that followed. After the 2014 Asian Games win, the Indian team saw a rise in world rankings as they progressed from 9th in the world in 2014 to 4th in the beginning of 2020.