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Tokyo Olympics: Manpreet Singh's men have delivered the long-awaited moment for Indian hockey
Once again we witness an act of glory by the Indian hockey team as Manpreet Singh and company fetch the bronze medal from Tokyo Olympics.
The wait is over. Indian men's hockey team has ended its 41-year drought by winning a medal at the Olympics. The glorious years of Indian hockey - stuff made of legend — narrated to us by our forefathers till this day has become a reality again.
It was in 1980, the Indian men's hockey team won their last gold medal during the Summer Games in Moscow. But they did not play semifinals in that edition as only six teams participated in the event.
A country that produced stalwarts like Major Dhyan Chand and Balbir Singh Senior bore the pain of failing to carry on their legacy.
After 1980, a generation of hockey stars had tried their best to bring back the glory days. From Dhanraj Pilley to Dilip Tirkey, Sandeep Singh, and Sardar Singh, couldn't bring home what was expected of them.
The absence of astroturf surfaces during the 80s, and 90s India bit us back with a lack of experience playing on it. With the turn of the century, the facilities started improving, and India slowly started showing the signs of hope. However, the Olympic success was yet to be cracked. The confidence had hit the nadir when the team finished last at the London Games in 2012.
Soon after the debacle, the Indian hockey federation was dissolved and Hockey India became the governing body for the sport. A systematic schedule and regular tournaments roping in the best of the support staff led to a revival.
The 2014 Asian Games became the turning point as the team defeated Pakistan to win their third gold medal. In the 2014–15 Hockey World League, India won the bronze medal by beating the Netherlands.
The team reached the 2018 Men's Hockey Champions Trophy finals but lost to Australia in the penalty shootout. The Hockey World Cup hosted in India was a big learning curve for the team. However, it was only after Graham Reid took the reins, this team started showing world-class promises.
In 2019, the team won the FIH Men's Series Finals, a significant morale lift for Manpreet and his men. Coming into the Olympics, they had back-to-back successful results against the top teams of the world.
The roster for the year 2020 started with the much-awaited FIH Pro League. India opened their campaign against World no. 3 Netherlands. The Manpreet Singh brigade oozed confidence with 5-2 victories in the first leg, followed by another shootout win.
Their biggest challenge was waiting in February 2020, where they faced World Champions Belgium and top-ranked Australia. Our men gave the teams a run for the money, winning one leg against each of them.
Followed by the prolonged gap owing to coronavirus, the Indian team returned to action in February this year with a tour against world no. 5 and 6 Germany and England, respectively. India posted an emphatic 6-1 win over Germany in the opening match, followed by a 1-1 draw. Similar results were achieved against England with a 1-1 draw and a 3-2 victory.
The last time India took the field was during the resumption of the FIH Pro League against Argentina, ranked seventh in the world. India won both their matches against the host in Buenos Aires with satisfying results in the practice games.
After playing all the top seven teams last year, India was dubbed as one of the major challengers for the podium finish in the Tokyo Olympics.
Graham Reid's boys displayed without a shadow of a doubt that the wins against the Dutch, Australian, and Argentinians were no flash in the pan and that the team is clicking as a whole. This is exactly what they showed till their bronze medal wins on Thursday.
Throughout their campaign, the unit looked exceptionally promising in the majority of the departments.
Manpreet's command in controlling the game in the midfield, a rejuvenated Harmanpreet Singh showing class by scoring six goals, youngsters Dilpreet Singh, Vivek Sagar Prasad rising up to the occasion, and the ever reliant PR Sreejesh as the saviour of goalpost with all his might — the chemistry was rock solid.
Even though they faltered a few times here and there, the Indian team came back strongly when the odds were stacked against them.
India had to come back twice from behind in the bronze medal match to level the scores and then had to push on to take the lead. Coach Graham Reid's side showed great temperament in the match's dying minutes to script history in Tokyo.
This was long due and long-expected from India. And going by their form, it is only the way forward for Manpreet Singh and his Men in Blue.