India men's hockey team scripted history on Thursday morning when they defeated heavyweight Germany 5-4 in the third-place match to clinch the Bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. This becomes India's fourth medal at the ongoing Olympics after wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya ensured a gold or a silver medal on Wednesday evening.
Indian hockey team also won their first medal at the Olympics after a 41-year-old drought with the last medal (a gold) coming at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Historic goals from Simranjeet Singh (2), Rupinder Pal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Hardik Singh are what it took the Indian hockey team to register themselves as the new greats of the Indian sport.
The start was a topsy-turvy one for India as Germany's Timur Oruz became the 10th individual goal scorer for Germany at this Olympics to put them ahead in the second minute. They continued to dominate the first quarter and forced India to block five penalty corners in the closing minute to be in the game.
The sturdy defensive show soon reaped benefit as Simranjit Singh scored for India from open play in what was a strong reverse stick shot to make it 1-1.
However, the joy was short-lived as Germany scored two goals in two minutes to make it 2-1 in their favour. Indian defence certainly lost their concentration as Niklas Bosserhoff and Furk Benedikt made most of the defensive lapses to put themselves ahead again.
But there was hardly any time for the Germans to react as India scored two consecutive penalty corners to make it 3-3 in no time. The protagonists on these occasions turned out to be Harmapreet Singh followed by Hardik Singh to level the scoreline.
India knew the momentum was on their side from here and they made the most of it at the beginning of the third quarter when a dangerous play from Germany saw India earn a penalty stroke. Rupinder Pal Singh stepped up on the occasion and used his power to net the fourth goal. The fifth and decisive goal soon followed as Simranjit Singh slotted in his second goal from the open play.
Germany did try to force their way back into the game when Lukas Windfeder pulled one back to make it 5-4 and make things patchy at the fag end of the match. However, the Indian defence managed to remain calm and composed in the closing minutes to see out the final whistle for a historic win.
Skipper Manpreet Singh dedicated India's historic triumph to the country's doctors and healthcare workers, who have been working relentlessly amid the pandemic.
"I don't know what to say right now, it was fantastic. The effort, the game, we were 3-1 down. I think we deserve this medal. We have worked so hard, the last 15 months were difficult for us also, we were in Bangalore and some of us got COVID also. We would like to dedicate this medal to doctors and frontline health workers who have saved so many lives in India," he said.
Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh, who converted a penalty corner against Germany, pointed out that the bonding that developed during COVID isolation played a key role in the team's bronze at the Tokyo showpiece.
"It's a nostalgic moment for us. It's a special moment for every Indian. It's a big achievement. We have made a lot of sacrifices but our focus was on being mentally stronger. In the last 16 months we lived as a family in Bengaluru," said Harmanpreet.
"We were completely shut from the outside world. We were just focussed on our job," he further said.