A 41-year wait finally ended when the Indian men’s hockey team secured an Olympic medal by beating Germany 5-4 in a pulsating encounter in Tokyo on Thursday.
Goals from Rupinder Pal Singh, Hardik Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, in addition to a brace from Simranjeet Singh saw India through. It was a topsy-turvy game in which India went 0-1 and then 1-3 down, conceding two goals in as many minutes, before launching a comeback. They went up 5-3 and had to endure some anxious moments, showing determination and defensive resolve to end one of the longest droughts in Indian sport.
The Indian penalty corner battery was a constant threat, but they were also quite dangerous in open play, often catching the Germans with swift counter-attacks.
Germany scored through Timur Oruz, Niklas Wellen, Benedikt Furk and Lukas Windfeder, but in the end, had to go back from the Olympics without their customary medal.
As is often the case, the medal didn’t come easy for the Indian team. They had to bounce back from a 1-7 mauling at the hands of Australia in their second group game. They won four matches on the bounce after that before going down 2-5 to world champions Belgium in a high-quality semifinal. They couldn’t afford to feel sorry for themselves after that loss and showed great reserves of physical and emotional energy to get across the line on Thursday.
After the final hooter, there were emotional hugs among the India players and the coaching staff. They all came into a huddle as Australian head coach Graham Reid and skipper Manpreet Singh spoke about the significance of what they have achieved and the sacrifices they have made to get there.
The German side that came to the Olympics in Tokyo doesn’t have the aura of teams of the past. The European giants won back-to-back gold medals in 2008 and 2012, but even a diminished Germany are never easy to beat as they seldom give in.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was in inspirational form once again, as India thwarted the late German charge. They had to defend a penalty corner awarded with 6.8 seconds left on the clock, but as the ball went out of the Indian D, the podium place was secured, adding a new and glorious chapter in the history of Indian hockey that could very well spark a long-term turnaround and interest in the Indian national game.