With the onset of November in 2019, the Indian women's hockey team tested their fate amid a full-house audience at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, for the bid to qualify for Tokyo Olympics. They played the minnows USA women's hockey team in FIH Tokyo Olympic qualifiers in a two-leg encounter.
Despite winning the first leg of the encounter by a 5-1 margin, the Indian side was staring at a disqualification from the Tokyo Games when USA pulled off a brilliant comeback in the second leg and led by 4-1 till the third quarter. An aggregate that read 5-5 would have led to a shootout scenario, and India would have to fend themselves through the uncharted territory of lady luck.
Just 12 minutes left into the match, skipper Rani Rampal broke the deadlock from an opportunistic strike and defended it till their last breath, and earned their historic second consecutive entry into the Olympics.
Two years down the line, a team that almost was on the verge of ending hopes for qualifying into the Tokyo Games will be proud of themselves when they return home from a spectacular outing in the Japanese capital.
Rani Rampal and her battalion have etched themselves with glory in the record books of Indian hockey with a performance that has given Indians enough reason to cherish.
The Indian women had already created history and surpassed all expectations by entering the semifinals of the Games for the first time.
Despite a poor start of losing three consecutive games against the Netherlands, Germany, and Great Britain in the group stages, the team came back on a promising note to beat Ireland and South Africa in their next two games. They made it to the semifinals only when the Great Britain side assured a victory over Ireland.
In a dramatic turn of events, the Indian Eves did the unthinkable by registering a monumental 1-0 win over the mighty Australians in the quarters, which led them into the semifinals. It was for the first time India had defeated Australia, which led Indian fans into a fervour who started to draw the analogy of this win with the fictional depiction in the Bollywood cult classic 'Chak De India'.
Vandana Katariya's hat-trick, Gurjit Kaur's immaculate penalty conversions, goalkeeper Savita Punia's extraordinary saves, Rani Rampal's captaincy — the plot thickened with inspirational performances by the unit as a whole.
Coach Sjoerd Marijne, who was unknown to many, became an overnight sensational character. This, along with the resounding success of the bronze -- medal-winning men's hockey team, gave India new heroes to fall in love with.
In the bronze medal match earlier today, the Indians played their hearts out and overcame a two-goal deficit to lead 3-2 at halftime.
But a desperate Great Britain gave their everything in the second half and scored two goals to snatch the match from India's hands. Although a heartbreaking moment for the fans who cried alongside the women on the field, the team that had ended at the bottom-most place in Rio 2016 can have their chin up with a fourth place in Tokyo.
India's best performance in the Olympics was a fourth-place finish in the 1980 Moscow Games. There were no semifinals in that edition as only six teams competed in a round-robin format, with the top two in the final.
This team has shown promise, perseverance, resilience, and class, matching up to the top-most hockey teams in the world. It is a victory in defeat as Rani's renegades helps improve the stature of the game among India's conscience, which was last seen during the 1980s.
The Indian women's hockey team can only be proud of their outing. A big year to look forward to in 2022, with Commonwealth Games and Asian Games on the card, it is the only way upwards for the team.