Updated: August 1, 2021 6:33:32 am
Sjoerd Marijne couldn’t bear to watch.
As the match between Ireland and Great Britain began, the Dutch coach of the Indian women’s team stepped out of his room and went for a stroll around the Games Village, cut off from whatever was transpiring at the Oi Hockey Stadium, 15 minutes away.
India’s fate depended on that game. They had done their bit in the morning, a hat-trick by Vandana Katariya and a goal by Neha Goyal ensuring a 4-3 win over South Africa. Now, to qualify for the Olympic quarterfinals, they had to hope that Ireland wouldn’t beat Britain.
A win for Ireland would mean they would end the group stage with the same number of points as India – six. But the Irish had a superior goal difference, which would mean the World Cup finalists would progress to the quarterfinals at the expense of Marijne’s charges.
“I was walking outside our apartment, couldn’t watch it,” Marijne told The Indian Express. “A few girls too were outside. It was too tense for us to watch calmly.”
It felt to them like the match went on forever. After walking for a while, Marijne went to the gym. “I did a complete session, the match wouldn’t get over! They were playing for what seemed like a very, very long time,” he laughs.
Although there would have been a slight urge, Marijne did not even follow the scores online. Instead, he had messaged a couple of his friends to text him each time Britain scored. He got those messages twice: Britain defeated Ireland 2-0 to guarantee India a place in the last eight.
This is the first time India’s women’s hockey team has reached this far. In 1980, the team finished fourth at the Moscow Olympics but only six teams had competed at those Games, which were boycotted by several countries. In 2016, the only other occasion the women have played at the Olympics, they finished 12th out of 12 teams.
Marijne said he first called his wife and kids and then went to a common room where the rest of the players had already assembled. “My wife and children have been an integral part of this journey. So this moment was important for them as well,” he said. “When we met, there were some tears of joy and some of the girls were shouting and screaming in celebration. We are relieved, happy. A lot of hard work has gone into this.”
Marijne, though, added it was important for the team to focus on their quarterfinal opponents: three-time Olympic champions Australia, who have been unbeaten in the group stages. Marijne said the team will go into that match with a free mind. “The pressure is on Australia and not on us. We’ll be able to play freely and that will work for us,” he said.