A resolute Indian men’s hockey team rewrote history as they claimed an Olympic medal after 41 years, defeating a plucky Germany 5-4 to win the bronze in an edge-of-the-seat play-off match of the Tokyo 2020 Sumer Games on Thursday.
The eight-time former gold-winners, who battled a heartbreaking slump in the last four decades, made the resurgence of the last couple of years count in the best way possible with an Olympic medal.
Simranjeet Singh (17th, 34th minutes) scored a brace, while Hardik Singh (27th), Harmanpreet Singh (29th) and Rupinder Pal Singh (31st) were the other goal-getters for the world no.3 India. Germany’s goals were scored by Timur Oruz (2nd), Niklas Wellen (24th), Benedikt Furk (25th) and Lukas Windfeder (48th).
As the final hooter rang out at the Oi Hockey Stadium North Pitch, the Indian team sank to their feet in the realisation of what they have just done. PR Sreejesh, who again made multiple saves, climbed atop the goal he had been so valiantly guarding, in celebration. Teammates hugged each other as scenes of German players down on the ground reflecting on their missed chance was splashed across the screen.
Indian men’s hockey team captain Manpreet Singh was a happy man as he dedicated the win to India’s heroes - doctors, soldiers and other covid-19 frontline workers.
“We dedicate this medal to our Covid-19 frontline warriors. Doctors, soldiers and everyone else who fought to keep us safe," the Manpreet said after the historic win.
The 29-year-old from Jalandhar was “speechless" following the epoch-making 5-4 victory over Germany that gave India their 12th hockey medal in the Olympics but one that came after over four decades.
The last time India stood on the podium was at the 1980 Moscow Games where they won gold. The country has eight gold medals in all the Games. “I don’t know what to say right now, it was fantastic. The effort, the game, we were 3-1 down. I think we deserve this medal. We have worked so hard, the last 15 months were difficult for us also, we were in Bangalore and some of us got COVID also," Manpreet recalled. “We would like to dedicate this medal to doctors and frontline health workers who have saved so many lives in India," he said. A relentless Germany tested every bit of the resolve that the Indian hockey team had and Manpreet acknowledged the grit of the opposition.
“It was difficult, they got a penalty corner in the last six seconds. We thought we have got to save it with our lives. It is really hard. I am speechless right now," said the skipper, who seemed overcome by emotion. “We had a long gap when we didn’t get a medal. Now we will get more confidence, yes we can do it. If we can finish on podium in Olympics, we can finish on podium anywhere," he added.
India had endured a 2-5 loss to Belgium in the semifinals, which put paid to their hopes of a gold at the Games. Manpreet said coach Graham Reid shook the players out of the disappointment by telling them to stay focussed on the play-off game. “…we didn’t give up. We kept fighting back. It’s a great feeling, best feeling. We came here for the gold, we won bronze, it is still a great thing. It’s a great moment for all hockey fans," he said. “It’s just a start here, it hasn’t finished (with this bronze)," he added.
Drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who was one among the five scorers on the day, could not hold back tears while talking to the media and said it is just the start of great things in Indian hockey. “People were forgetting hockey in India. They loved hockey, but they stopped hoping that we can win. But we won today. They can expect more from us in the future. Keep believing in us," he said.
Manpreet also wished the women’s team, who will also play for the bronze;" We now wish the women’s team the best. They’ll win the medal tomorrow, I’m sure."
Determined to clinch a medal, the Indians made one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of the game, fighting back from a two-goal deficit to turn the match in their favour. There were tears and hugs on the field as the Indians led by Manpreet Singh and coached by Australian Graham Reid savoured the historic moment.
It is India’s third hockey bronze medal in the history of the Olympics. The other two came in 1968 Mexico City and the 1972 Munich Games. For world no.5 Germany it was heart-break as they couldn’t repeat their bronze medal winning feat of the 2016 Rio Games.