New Delhi [India], December 28 (ANI): The year 2021 will be etched in the memory of Indian sports fans forever as the country enjoyed their best-ever medal haul in Olympics with 7 medals in Tokyo Games. In the Japanese capital, India also ended their 41-year drought for a hockey medal in Olympics as the men's team clinched a bronze medal and the women's team missed the podium finish by a whisker.
The Indian men's team was high on confidence going to Tokyo. Because before their visit to East-Asian country, they played four practice matches against Rio Olympics champions Argentina in Buenos Aires. In those practice clashes, the Indian team won two matches, one ended in a draw and another in defeat in the month of April.
In Tokyo Olympics Indian men's team opened their campaign against lower-ranked yet competitive New Zealand where they made a comeback after being a goal down to win the match 3-2 thanks to a brace from drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh and a goal from Rupinder Pal Singh.
Their second match was against mighty Australians where they were drubbed 7-1 raising doubts over their ability to end the 41-year old medal wait. India's lone goal-scorer against Aussies was Dilpreet Singh.
In the next match, the Manpreet Singh led side bounced back to beat Spain 3-0 with drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh scoring a brace and Simranjit Singh scoring a goal. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh maintained a clean sheet. From there on they India never looked back in the pool stage beating the then reigning Olympic champions Argentina 3-1 with Varun Kumar, Vivek Sagar Prasad and Harmanpreet Singh scoring the goals to seal the quarter-final berth.
Host Japan were beaten 5-3 with a brace from Gurjant Singh and a goal each from Harmanpreet, Shamsher Singh and Nilakanta Sharma.
India finished 2nd in Pool A with four wins in 5 matches and only one defeat. Due to India's stellar show in the pool stage, the blue sticks faced a lacklustre Great Britain in the quarter-final. India won 3-1 against GB thanks to goals from Dilpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh and Hardik Singh to enter the semi-final of the Olympics after 49 years. Notably, in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, India played the round-robin stage to directly qualify for the final.
The men in blue then faced World Champions Belgium in the semi-final and they were given a 5-2 thrashing by the eventual champions as the Manpreet Singh led-side was left to fight for a bronze medal against Rio Olympics bronze medallist Germany.
The Germans started the lead against India scoring a goal early on in the game. India equalised but Germans played with immense intensity to make it 3-1 in their favour. But the Indians then decided to up the ante as they went on to score four goals to take a 5-3 lead. Germans pulled one goal back in the last quarter to reduce the two-goal advantage of India to one.
With 24 seconds left in the clock, India conceded a penalty corner and somehow saved a goal but the clock stopped for 11 seconds. With only six seconds left India conceded yet another penalty which happened due to the clock stop problem but goalkeeper PR Sreejesh once again saved the penalty as the country's 41-year wait for an Olympic medal ended despite all odds.
Simranjeet Singh scored a brace while Harmanpreet Singh, Hardik Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh scored a goal each. With Indian defence standing tall and Sreejesh under the bar made numerous saves to script a historic 5-4 triumph.
The Indian men's team lost only two matches in Tokyo and the teams they lost to Australia and Belgium played each other in the final.
India's showing offered hope after decades for men's hockey. The team has bagged eight Olympic gold medals, making them the most successful team ever, but the last gold came in the 1980 Moscow Olympics under Vasudevan Baskaran's captaincy.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the team members and also took to Twitter to congratulate the Indian hockey team.
"Historic! A day that will be etched in the memory of every Indian. Congratulations to our Men's Hockey Team for bringing home the Bronze. With this feat, they have captured the imagination of the entire nation, especially our youth. India is proud of our Hockey team," tweeted PM Narendra Modi.
PM Modi also praised them in his monthly radio address 'Mann ki Baat' show.
"This year we won an Olympic medal in hockey after 40yrs. You can imagine how happy Major Dhyan Chand must be. We're seeing love for sports in the youth. This passion for sports is the greatest tribute to Major Dhyan Chand. Every medal is special. When India won a Medal in Hockey, the nation rejoiced. Major Dhyan Chand Ji would have been so happy. India's youth wants to do something new and on a large scale," PM Modi said in the 80th edition of 'Mann ki Baat.'
It was not only the men's team who came out with flying colours the women's team too did the unthinkable in Tokyo Olympics.
The campaign of the Indian women's team got off to the worst possible start losing the first three matches. In the first match, India were humiliated by World Champions and Rio Olympics 2016 silver medallist The Netherlands 1-5 despite being on level terms at 1-1 at one point of time.
In the second match too they lost to Rio Olympics bronze medallist Germany 0-2 and in the third match against Rio Olympics 2016 gold medallist Great Britain they were humiliated 1-4. This was Rani Rampal led side's third consecutive big margin defeat conceding 11 goals and scoring only 2 in their first three matches. India's women's coach Sjoerd Marijne was also disappointed by the dismal show.
Indian women teams' below-par show meant that their next two matches were do-or-die as well as dependency over other teams to win matches for India to qualify for the quarter-final.
India played Ireland in the fourth match and Navneet Kaur's solitary goal helped India edge past the Irish team 1-0 to stay in contention for the quarter-finals. In the last game against South Africa, Vandana Katariya's hat-trick and Neha's goal helped India beat the Proteas 4-3 to finish fourth in the group and qualify for the quarter-finals bettering their Rio Olympics 2016 performance where they could not go past the group stage.
After finishing fourth in the group stage Indian women's team faced the group stage topper of the other group Australia. And when no one expected them the Indian team rose up from the ashes and defeated the mighty Aussies 1-0 courtesy to Gurjit Kaur's penalty corner conversion which was coupled with goalkeeper Savita Punia's heroics.
Indian women's team triumph against Australia was historic as they reached the semi-final for the first time in the showpiece event. This win came a day after the Indian men's team won over Great Britain in the quarter-final.
Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne took to Twitter to say "Sorry family, I coming again later" to which Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan replied saying "Haan haan no problem. Just bring some Gold on your way back....for a billion family members. From: Ex-coach Kabir Khan."
With expectations, sky-high the spirited Indian women's team locked horns against Argentina and took a lead in the 2nd minute of the match through drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur's penalty corner conversion. But Argentina fought back as Maria Noel Barrionuevo's brace took the game away from the Indians as they were now left to play Great Britain for a bronze medal.
In the bronze medal match, Great Britain took a 2-0 lead but the Rani Rampal led-side fought back to make it 2-2 with drag-flicker Gurjit's brace. Vandana Katariya's goal gave India a 3-2 lead and when it seemed the women's team will bring their first-ever Olympic medal, the British team roared back and scored two goals to take the match away 3-4.
It was heartbreak for the women in blue as well as for the entire nation as the team missed the medal by a narrow margin. The Indian women's team lost the medal but won the hearts finishing fourth and matching their 1980 Moscow Olympics performance.
Prime Minister Modi also called them to console them after their heartbreaking loss.
When Indian teams returned back they received a grand welcome from the entire nation wherever they went and were felicitated as the men's team won a medal after 41 years and the women's team reached their first-ever semi-final.
With so much love one could sense that this was the resurgence of Indian hockey. A sport that has brought so many laurels to the nation had once lost its charm after the men's team failed to qualify for Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Manpreet Singh led the Indian side under the guidance of Australian coach Graham Reid have taken forward the legacy of Indian hockey which has produced greats like Major Dhyan Chand, Jaipal Singh Munda, Balbir Singh Senior, Ajit Pal Singh, Dhanraj Pillay etc. (ANI)