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Bronze medal is Indian hockey's best achievement in 50 years — Former captain Rajpal Singh

Following India's victory in a mouthwatering clash, a jubilant former India captain Rajpal Singh termed India's bronze medal clinch in Tokyo their best achievement in 50 years.

Indian Men Hockey Team
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Indian Men Hockey Team (Source: Hockey India)

By

Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 2021-08-05T15:31:43+05:30

Indian men's hockey team on Thursday scripted history, winning its first Olympic medal in 41 years at the Oi Hockey Stadium North Pitch. Manpreet Singh led and Graham Reid coached the Indian side defeated Germany 5-4 in the third-place playoff during a nervy contest at the Tokyo Olympics.

The last time, the Indian men's team won an Olympic medal -- a gold -- in Moscow in the 1980 Olympics. It is India's 12th Olympic medal in hockey and the third bronze. India also won eight gold and silver.

Following India's victory in a mouthwatering clash, a jubilant former India captain Rajpal Singh termed India's bronze medal clinch in Tokyo their best achievement in 50 years.

"I am elated to see India finishing the match as the winner. It was a nail-biting contest. So close. But our boys lived up to the German challenge today and made a beautiful come back from 3-1 down to win the match 5-4. It is our best performance as well as our best achievement at the Olympics in 50 years. The difference between best achievement and best performance is a medal. Overall, India's performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been outstanding. Now, this medal has made all the difference. It is a lifetime achievement for the Indian players," said Rajpal, who scored 52 goals for India in 147 outings in the last decade.

Improved counterattack sharpened India's attacking effectiveness

India's win was more special because it came after they squandered a chance to play the gold medal match losing to Belgium 5-2 in the semifinal two days before.

The Indian men's team last won the bronze medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics when they defeated the Netherlands 2-1 in the third-place playoff. But India's performance at the 1976 Montreal Games was nothing extraordinary. They finished a dismal seventh. Next time in the 1980 Moscow Olympics, they regained their lost glory, winning the gold. However, the Moscow Games lost its grace since only six nations participated in the men's hockey event compared to 16 at the Munich Olympics in the wake of the Cold War.

"India's attack was never good in the Belgium match. Once Belgium were down 2-1, they started pressing hard in search of the equaliser. India was there in the game till the third quarter. But they became too defensive after getting the lead. In the last quarter, they completely lost control. Belgium utilized the opportunity. In the last 10 minutes, Belgium dominated the game like anything. India could hardly take the ball to their circle," Rajpal Singh looked over on India's loss to Belgium in the semifinal.

On Thursday, India appeared as an improved side when it comes to counterattack. It was a missing element in their game in the match against Belgium. Though sloppy defending allowed Germany to take a 3-1 lead in the second quarter, India bounced back in the game, scoring the second and third goals to level the score.

India did not get bogged down by Germany's quick attacks, they instead proceeded to the German circle and kept troubling them which resulted in one penalty stroke and flurry of opportunities for India.

Former hockey player Rajpal Singh

It was Simranjeet Singh who scored India's first goal in the second quarter from a well-executed tomahawk shot, but lazy defending saw Germany scoring two more goals within two minutes to take a 3-1 lead.

As Germany kept attacking, it looked India might be in trouble, but two Penalty Corners (PCs) rescued India as Hardik Singh scored on the rebound from the first one, while Harmanpreet Singh scored another with a superb drag-flick on to the back of the nets.

Rupinder Pal Singh and Simranjeet extended India's lead to 5-3 in the third quarter. For Germany, Lukas Windfeder pulled one back in the final quarter, but it was not enough for his team to push it to the shootouts.



India were mentally strong

The 37-year-old Rajpal Singh attributed India's magnificent comeback win against Germany to their "mental, physical and emotional strength". "When India were trailing by 3-1, they showed immense mental, physical and emotional strength to demonstrate a comeback in the match. This proved to be crucial in their win against Germany. In the last 10 minutes of the Belgium match, India were lacking these. Today, India showed the opponents that they are not rattled by their attacks."

Talking about India's attacking prowess against Germany, the Deputy Superintendent of Police in Punjab Police, Rajpal, said, "India's counterattack is usually very good. But in the semifinal, it was a missing element in India's game. In the bronze medal match, India's counterattack was superb against Germany. Scoring goals from a counterattack is the best option. Against England, India scored three field goals from counterattacks. Today as well India has made the best use of their strength."

But still, India could not stop conceding penalty corners to the opponents. Just like previous matches, India conceded nine penalty corners against Germany today. At the very last minute as well, India gave one PC to Germany who fortunately for India could not convert as goalkeeper PR Srjeesh made an outstanding save.

"In the semifinal against Belgium, India conceded 13 penalty corners. In the quarterfinal against Great Britain, there were as many as 12 PCs. But, we could not convert a single one. Of course, we have to avoid giving PCs to the opponents as much as possible and have to create more opportunities for us going forward," the Arjuna Award-winning former forward professed.

However, unlike Great Britain and Belgium matches, India, on Thursday, scored two goals from PCs against Germany.

Pre-Olympics exposure tours came in handy

The 2010 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, Rajpal Singh, meanwhile, said that India has had the best of the preparations in the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics which resulted in this historic bronze medal.

And he is happy with India's overall campaign in Tokyo where they registered thumping victories against New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Great Britain and Germany but lost to Australia and Belgium which tamed their chance of converting the bronze into silver or gold.

"Overall, India's performance at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has been outstanding. India had prepared well for the Olympics. In all the matches, except for the Australia and Belgium games where they lost 7-1 and 5-2, they played exceptionally good hockey. The Indian team has improved because they learnt from past failures. In the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, India's performance was not up to the mark. But they improved after that. They played a number of exposure tours despite the pandemic situations. Winning the bronze medal also indicates that the redemption process of Indian hockey is well on track," said Rajpal, who won the 2007 Asia Cup and 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup during his distinguished career.


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