Olympic hockey: Brilliant India secure semi-final berth after four decades, to take on Belgium
New Delhi, August 1, 2021
With a brilliant performance from a young team that lived like a family during the pandemic and played as a single unit in Tokyo, India made it to the medal round of the Olympic Games men's hockey tournament after a gap of 41 years, beating Great Britain 3-1 in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
It was Super Sunday for India as the team coached by Australia's Graham Reid rode on a scintillating performance by goalkeeper P R Sreejesh to outwit Great Britain in the fourth and last quarter-final, setting up a last-four clash with reigning World Cup winners Belgium.
Australia will take on Germany in the other semifinal.
Victory over Belgium will put India in the final for the first time since the 1980 Moscow Olympics when they beat Spain to win their eighth and last gold medal in Olympics hockey.
A defeat against Belgium will keep them in the hunt for the bronze medal.
It is the first time that India have reached the semi-final of Olympic hockey competition since 1972 when they won a bronze in Munich. There were no semifinals played in Moscow, with the top two teams in the preliminary league making it to the gold-medal match while the team that finished third and fourth contested for bronze.
Forwards Dilpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh, and Hardik Singh scored for India while Sam Ward reduced the margin for Great Britain off an indirect penalty corner.
But India have to thank their defenders and goalkeeper Sreejesh for the victory as they absorbed the pressure from Great Britain -- especially in the fourth quarter when skipper Manpreet Singh was shown the yellow card for a desperate tackle -- and thwarted repeated attempts from the British forwards.
Earlier, India started off well and went into the lead in the seventh minute after Great Britain had earned the first penalty corner of the match in the third minute. Amit Rohidas rushed forward to cut down the space, which did not allow the rivals to take a clear shot.
India took control of the first quarter and scored when Dilpreet capitalised on a superb move and pass by Gurjant to slam the ball past the goalkeeper.
India dictated the pace, dominated the midfield, and goalkeeper Sreejesh stood like a rock, denying the British goals off penalty corners as well as their forward Sam Ward, who looked threatening on a couple of occasions.
Sreejesh was the best Indian player in the first half as he denied the British forwards on several occasions.
Gurjant Singh made it 2-0 in the second quarter with another superb field goal, his third in the Tokyo Olympics so far.
Great Britain picked up the tempo in the second quarter and created a number of chances, always looking to Sam Ward to provide the final push towards the goal. But with the Indian defence, manned by Amit Rohidas, Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Sumit blocking, tackling and thwarting the rivals, Great Britain found the going tough.