Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne with the rest of the women's hockey team after the win against Australia on Monday. Indian women now take on World Number 5 Argentina in the semifinal of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games on Wednesday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@SjoerdMarijne)
History was made at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Monday when the Rani Rampal-led Indian women's hockey team beat triple Olympic gold medallists Australia 1-0 to reach their first-ever Olympic semifinal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Dramatic scenes were witnessed after the final hooter as the Indian women and the coaching staff hugged, cried and celebrated the long-awaited triumph. It also triggered celebrations back home as many had not expected the women in blue to defeat the Hockeyroos, who had finished their Pool B campaign with a perfect record of five wins from five matches. Indian team will now take on World Number 5 Argentina in the semifinal on Wednesday.
"We promise you that we will value each and every minute of this prestigious tournament to make you all proud," Rampal and men's team captain Manpreet Singh had said in a joint 'open letter' to the fans of Indian hockey all over the globe just before leaving for their Olympic campaign.
Now, on the 10th day of the Tokyo Olympics, both teams have moved a step closer to winning a medal at the Games. Indian men, who won the last of their eight Olympic gold medals way back at Moscow 1980, take on Belgium in the semifinals of the men's hockey competition on Tuesday.
It was also at Moscow in 1980 that the Indian women had recorded their previous best performance, a fourth-place finish. With most of the teams boycotting the Games then, the competition was held in a league format with the two top teams making it to the final.
"I don't know what to say because emotions are too high at the moment, and we all are very happy because it was not an easy game to win from Australia. But I'm super proud of my team; each one of them really worked so hard throughout the game. And we just said one thing to each other to just believe in ourselves, we can do this well," said an elated Rampal after the victory.
Just raw, sheer emotions. 🥺❤️— #Tokyo2020 for India (@Tokyo2020hi) August 2, 2021
This celebration of the #IND women’s hockey team after defeating world no. 2 #AUS had us all go through a rollercoaster of emotions! 👏🔥
Tokyo2020 | #UnitedByEmotion | #StrongerTogether | #Hockey pic.twitter.com/cZvyFWaXFy
India, who lost their first three matches of the competition and finished fourth in Pool A, matched runaway Pool B winners Australia throughout the game (Image courtesy: Twitter/@TheHockeyIndia)
Coached by Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, the India women have been making steady progress in the past few years, moving up the FIH World Rankings as well as making the cut for the major events.
Rio 2016 was India's first Olympic appearance since 1980 and Tokyo 2020 their second successive Games.
"This group is really special. They are very strong mentally and I believe this will be one of our assets when we take on big teams in Tokyo. We are geared up for the challenge," Marijne had said while wrapping up an "emotional" last practice session in Bengaluru on July 17.
That the current team is mentally tougher than previous years has also been highlighted by Neil Hawgood, the former chief coach who was with the women's team when they qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics after a 36-year absence from the quadrennial event.
"Earlier, if the team conceded an early goal then it created a worrying situation which could lead to a heavy defeat. In a similar situation now, the team is calm and confident knowing that they can come back into any game," he had told Hockey India, last month.
That 'speciality' was there for everyone to see on Monday as the Indian women played their hearts out against World Number 2 Australia to romp home with a 1-0 win which is now being regarded by many as one of the biggest on Olympic hockey stage.
Even though they kept most of the ball possession, the pressure was quite visible on the Australian team from the very first quarter. It only increased tremendously as drag flicker Gurjit Kaur, the only goal-scorer of the match, found the back of the net to help India take a 1-0 lead. As the Australian team mounted one attack after another, the Indian defence stood tall and fought against everything that was thrown at them to rewrite the history books.
It has been a remarkable showing by the Indian women considering that they started their campaign in Tokyo on a disappointing note - a 1-5 loss to reigning World, European and FIH Hockey Pro League champions the Netherlands on July 24. It was followed by two more defeats against Germany (0-2) and Great Britain (1-4) before the team made a late surge to beat Ireland (1-0) and South Africa (4-3) in their final two pool games and book a place in the quarterfinal.
"We have all the skills to perform at this level. However, it's very important for us to execute our plans properly. Everyone is clear about their respective roles. If we coordinate well on the field and play to our potential, I am sure we can produce great results in this tournament," Rampal had said last week.
As they produced the performance of their lives to claim a stunning quarterfinal victory today, the team which finished 12th in the standings at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games has ensured their ambition of winning a medal in Tokyo is very much alive and kicking.
India’s opponents in the semi-finals will be Argentina, who defeated the much-fancied Germany in the day’s first quarter-final. It is the fifth time that Argentina’s women have reached the final four of the Olympic Games, having medalled on each of the four previous occasions (silver – Sydney 2000, London 2012; bronze – Athens 2004, Beijing 2008).