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On a memorable day for Lakra and Rohidas, Indian men’s hockey team bounce back in Tokyo

India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh with teammates Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas after the game against Spain in Tokyo (Image courtesy: Twitter/@16Sreejesh)

After a shocking 1-7 loss against Australia on Sunday, Indian men's hockey team bounced back at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games today with a well-oiled collective effort to beat Spain 3-0 even as the World No 1 Kookaburras' stranglehold of Men's Pool A continued with another superb display to see off the challenge of Rio 2016 gold medallists Argentina.

On a milestone day for Birendra Lakra (200th game for India) and Amit Rohidas (100 caps), India recorded their second win of the competition with a strong performance against Spain. It was the perfect response to their recent poor show against Australia, bouncing back in style to remain on-track for a quarter-final berth with six points.

India scored twice in the opening period with Simranjeet Singh scoring from open play before Rupinder Pal Singh guided home a penalty corner to put his team firmly in control. The eight-time Olympic gold medallists had to wait until the fourth quarter for their third goal, with Rupinder Pal Singh again on target from a penalty corner.

Defeat keeps Spain outside of the top four places in the pool, something which they will need to rectify in their final two pool matches if they are to progress into the knock-out phase of the competition.

"Yesterday was a bad day and today we bounced back," said India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. "That's most important because if you can forget the past match and bounce back to play a better game, that's most important for a game like at the Olympic Games."

After claiming important three points today, India now take on defending Olympic Champions Argentina in their fourth Pool A match on Thursday.

"Better result today, but a lot of things to work on from an improvement perspective. The fact that we gave too many corners, that's always a concern when that happens. But the team did really well in terms of defending the PC. The first quarter was played very well, we could move the ball really well and it was exactly what we planned to do," said Chief Coach Graham Reid.  

It has been over 40 years since India men claimed the most recent of their incredible eight Olympic hockey gold medals.

Tokyo Olympics

Tuesday's game also saw veteran defender Birendra Lakra achieve the milestone of completing 200 senior international caps for the national team.  

Currently the joint Vice-Captain along with drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Lakra made his debut for the senior national team in the 2010 South Asian Games and has been part of India's various memorable moments such as the 2014 Asian Games glory, bronze medal feat in the 2015 World League final in Raipur and silver medal-winning campaign at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

A product of SAIL Hockey Academy Rourkela, Lakra progressed through the ranks of the junior team set-up where he represented India at the 5th Australian Youth Olympic Festival held at Sydney in 2009, 2009 Junior World Cup in Singapore and Malaysia, 2010 SAAF Games in Dhaka and 2011 Champions Challenge tournament in South Africa.

Lakra, however, missed out on the Rio Olympics 2016 due to a knee injury and made a strong comeback after an eight-month hiatus during the Indian team’s victorious 2016 Asian Champions Trophy campaign where they beat Pakistan in the final.

"Achieving this feat in a prestigious event like the Olympics is extra special and we at Hockey India are extremely delighted for Birendra's achievement. Being one of the most experienced players, he is a figure of inspiration for his teammates and he always gives his best in matches of all levels," said Hockey India president Gyanendro Ningombam.  
Defender Amit Rohidas also completed 100 international caps for the Indian team on Tuesday.

Rohidas, who hails from Saunamara village in Balisankra block of Odisha’s Sundargarh district, the same village as three-time Olympian and former India Captain Dilip Tirkey, made his India debut at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2013 in Malaysia. He was part of the team that won the silver medal at the 2013 Asia Cup and was also named as the Vice-Captain of the junior national team for the 2013 FIH Junior Men's Hockey World Cup held in New Delhi.  

"It's a great moment for me and my family. I cannot express my joy enough to be able to play in my 100th international match for India in an event like the Olympics. We are currently on a special mission, I want to give my everything to the team and make our fans proud back home," said Amit after reaching the milestone. 

Also Read: A 13-year-old wins gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games