Kolkata: It’s interesting to find out who is writing the script for Indian hockey in Tokyo Olympics. A day after the Indian men held off former Olympic champions Great Britain 3-1 to make their first semi-final in 49 years, their women’s team staged one of the biggest upsets of the Games so far when they beat two-time champions Australia 1-0 to make their first-ever semi-final.
Even till late last week, Rani Rampal’s girls were looking out of depth - slumping to three straight defeats and it looked as if they would possibly have to remain content with qualification for back-to-back Olympics. The turnaround started with a 1-0 win over Ireland and in a space of less than a week, they have completed a sensational turnaround even after qualifying as the fourth team from their group.
Punching above their weight, the Indian team showed enormous character to defend after an early goal which Gurjit Kaur got as early as in the 22nd minute. The Indian team will take on world number five Argentina in the semi-final on Wednesday. Argentina defeated Germany 3-0 in their quarter final match earlier today.
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Come Tuesday, Indian men will take on world champions Belgium in the semi-final, the latter having beaten Spain 3-1.
A enduring frame from the match would that of an emotional head coach Sjoerd Marijne, one the verge of breaking down, as he was speaking on the phone. ''This match proves dreams can come true. If you start believing and you keep believing and you keep working hard, things can happen. You have to do the work to fulfill your dreams and that's what we did today," the former Dutch international told Hockey India later.
India made a circle penetration and earned a penalty corner. Gurjit carried out the drag-flick and found the back of the net to help India take a 1-0 lead. Thereafter, Australia started putting pressure but the Indian defence stood tall while goalkeeper Savita Punia proved a rock under the bar.
‘‘The only thing we thought about was that we have to put in our all, we have 60 minutes with us, and hence, it is imperative to give our 100% efforts,’’ Savita said, before quoting Marijne’s pep talk: ‘‘The coach told us that it was a do-or-die situation, we only have 60 minutes and this is either our first match or the last.''
''Today, I told the girls to just play freely. The pressure is on the other team and that's really important to know. The quarter final matches are really difficult for the teams who are higher ranked and I wanted the players to be proud of themselves today, regardless of the result,'' Chief Coach Marijne said.
''And I told the players that at the end of the match, they shouldn't feel their legs after running so much on the pitch. We defended well today. The defensive structure during penalty corners was very good.''
''This match also proves dreams can come true. If you start believing and you keep believing and you keep working hard, things can happen. You have to do the work to fulfill your dreams and that's what we did today."