The Indian men’s hockey team ended a 41-year wait to make it to the medal round at the Olympics as it clinched a 3-1 win over Great Britain at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Sunday to advance to the semifinal.
Britain saw more of the ball initially and looked menacing, but India took the lead in the seventh minute against the run of play. Simranjeet Singh won the ball at the edge of the D and neatly played it to Dilpreet Singh, who converted from close range.
India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh pulled off a fine save to deny Samuel Ward soon after, as Britain pushed for an equaliser. Graham Reid’s side doubled its lead within seconds of the second quarter when Hardik Singh won the ball and found Gurjant Singh.
Gurjant skillfully pivoted 180 degrees to weave past his marker and snuck it into the goal past Britain’s goalkeeper Ollie Payne in the 16th minute.
The Indian defence dealt with a barrage of attacks in the third quarter as Britain upped the ante and dominated possession. The Indian backline was kept on its toes, but Britain lacked the finishing touch. Having squandered two penalty corners, it finally converted off its third in the 45th minute as Ward found the back of the net.
The last 15 minutes were a nervy affair — the Indians had to hold on to their slender one-goal lead while the British continued to play on the offensive.
Sreejesh summoned all his skill as he made save after save to keep the British at bay. India’s task became even more challenging when skipper Manpreet Singh was shown a yellow card with six minutes on the clock and had to sit out. The British had the man advantage but failed to make it count as Hardik Singh netted India’s third in the 57th minute. The 22-year-old went on a solo run during a counter-attack and made his way towards the opposition goal. He had his first shot saved but scored on the rebound. Minutes later, the Indian camp broke into emotional celebrations after sealing the win. They had just taken a step closer to their dream of bringing back Indian hockey’s Olympic glory days.
“We are very happy because we are reaching the semifinal after a long time. The tournament isn’t over yet, and we need to keep our feet on the ground and focus on the next match,” said Manpreet.
The Indians will take on Rio 2016 silver medallist and reigning world champion Belgium, which beat Spain 3-1 in the last eight, in the semifinal on August 3.