India regain lost Olympics glory; end medal drought after 41 years

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Tokyo: India finally ended their 41-year medal drought in men’s hockey as they beat Germany 5-4 in a nail-biting bronze medal playoff encounter at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Thursday. This is for the first time India won an Olympics medal since 1980. With this win, India’s medal count went up to eight bronze, one silver and three bronze.

The Indians have been brilliant throughout the tournament and lost just two matches against Australia (group stage)and Belgium (semifinal). India fought back from 1-3 down to claim a sensational victory over Die Honamas to seal their place on the podium.

With 6.8 seconds to go until time, Germany were awarded a penalty corner but it was Indian ‘The Wall’ under the sticks who crucial save denied Germany the medal. Simranjeet Singh (17th, 34th), Harmanpreet Singh (29th), Rupinder Pal Singh (31st) and Hardik Singh (27th) denying Germany a medal at a fourth successive Olympics.

Timur Oruz put Germany into the lead just two minutes into the contest after India failed to clear their defensive lines before Simranjeet levelled the scores early in the second quarter with a fierce backhand strike.

Simranjeet’s effort was the first of five goals in the second quarter, with Germany dominating to open up a fully deserved 3-1 lead thanks to goals from Niklas Wellen and Benedikt Furk before India hit a quick-fire double through Hardik and the exceptional Harmanpreet to take the score to 3-3 at half time.

India’s momentum was not interrupted by the halftime break, with Rupinder scoring a penalty stroke before Simranjeet chipped home a fifth to put the eight-time Olympic gold medallists into a commanding 5-3 lead going into the final quarter.

Germany have proven time and time again that they never know when they are beaten and set about the task of attempting a comeback with typical determination. They reduced the deficit 12 minutes from the time when Lukas Windfeder slammed home a low penalty corner, setting up a dramatic climax to the contest.

Die Honamas threw everything they had at their opponents, and were given one final chance to salvage the contest when they were awarded a penalty corner with just six seconds remaining. However, the drag-flick from the top of the circle was brilliantly saved by India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, becoming the hero that sealed India’s bronze medal.

“That is something which I never felt in my life until today”, said Sreejesh after the match. “That’s a great feeling. I think I need to go back to my home to realise what it is actually. Just waiting for that. I just called my dad because he was the reason behind me being here and I just wanted to tell him that I achieved it.”

India captain Manpreet Singh said: “I don’t know what to say right now. It was fantastic, the way we played today. I think we deserved this medal as we have worked so hard, and the last 15 months have been so difficult for us, being in Bangalore away from our families. From the whole team and the coaches, we would like to dedicate this medal to our doctors and front-line warriors who have been checking us and saved so many people’s lives in India.”

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