TOKYO, Aug 5: A resolute Indian men’s hockey team rewrote history as it 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 ongoing Games here 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 world no.3 India.
Germany’s goals were scored by Timur Oruz (2nd), Niklas Wellen (24th), Benedikt Furk (25th) and Lukas Windfeder (48th).
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.
India unleashed a four-goal blitz in four minutes as they came roaring back after being pinned down 1-3 by the Germans who started aggressively and created good pressure by going full press from the start itself.
But the Indians took control of the midfield, capitalised on the gaps created by the hard-pressing Germans, and counter-attacked brilliantly, cutting the German defence to shreds in that four-minute period that left the opponents shocked.
Till that time, it looked like Tobias Hauke’s Germany had taken control of the match as they opened the scoring in the second minute of their first attack and then scored twice within a minute as they took control of the proceedings with a 3-1 lead.
But the Indians were not done yet, they scored two goals of their own in the 27th and 29th minute through Hardik and Harmanpreet Singh, the latter powering a brilliant drag-flick into the German goal, capitalising on swift counter-attacks.
The score was 3-3 at half-time and both teams had a lot to play for.
The Indians continued with the momentum in the third quarter and a minute after the restart, earned a penalty stroke when Mandeep Singh was brought down by Oruz in the shooting circle.
Rupinderpal Singh’s push had too much power for German goalkeeper Alexander Stadler, who guessed the direction but could not get down fast enough to stop it.
And India made things more difficult for Germany when Simranjeet Singh was on target again in the 34th minute after he was set up by Gurjant Singh, who made a good run to the goal-line and sent a minus ball inside the circle.
Trailing by two goals, the Germans were expected to come hard on the Indian defence and they did exactly that, securing another penalty corner three minutes into the final quarter and this time Windfeder put the ball into the net through PR Sreejesh’s legs to bring a goal back.
In search of the equaliser, the Germans put the Indian defence under immense pressure in the remaining minutes of the game, securing three more penalty corners but couldn’t get past the determined back-line led by gigantic Sreejesh in front of the goal.
There was more drama in store as India conceded a penalty corner six seconds from the final hooter, but Sreejesh and the defence once against came to the side’s rescue. (Agencies)
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