A dream 41 years in the making of reaching the summit in a sport that has painted the history of an incredible country with much pride could finally become a reality. Again!
Only 120 minutes separate India from reaching the glorious heights of the past as a record ninth Olympic gold is just two games way after the Bharat Army knocked out Great Britain 3-1 in the Men’s Quarterfinal last evening.
For me the two words that defined their play in this fruitful excursion were Purpose and Discipline.
India played with much purpose in the first half (first two quarters) and showed discipline galore in the second (last two quarters) to keep Britain’s attacking intent at bay to overcome the ‘Her Majesty’ challenge as the agony of 41-year wait has slowly started to heal.
Speaking about ages of agony, the last time India made the semi-final of this prestigious showpiece was almost half a century to this day in the 1972 Olympics which got us a bronze. The gold in Moscow 1980 was won in a round robin format with the best two teams making the final as only six teams participated on that occasion.
So, without further ado lets dissect this game as the Men In Blue (Hockey) played possibly their best game in the tournament this far to surmount a tough opponent in Great Britain:
Dilpreet and Gurjant put India ahead in the first half
After getting thrashed 7-1 by the Kookaburras in their second group game, the fan inside me wondered has India once again become the easy push overs that we have known them to be in the not-too-distant past?
Well, thankfully not as with the way this team bounced back to win their next three fixtures proved me otherwise and boy was I glad to see purpose in their performance in every outing since the Australian debacle.
This purpose continued yesterday in the quarters as India attacked Britain from the outset and were immediately rewarded with a goal in just the 7th minute of the first quarter as Dilpreet Singh pushed the ball past keeper Oliver Payne.
Gurjant made it two in just the first 30 seconds of the second quarter as he was fed with a mouth-watering cross from Hardik Singh and the forward made no mistake in calmly slotting the ball through the legs of the Great Britain keeper.
Britain were all at sea as the first half ended and a come back was more than the need of the hour!
Great Britain dominate the second albeit the Sreejesh wall stands tall
As expected Great Britain came all guns blazing at India in the third quarter and were rewarded with four back to back penalty corners in the dying minutes of this quarter with the fourth attempt resulting in a hurrah.
Yes, Britain had got one back albeit it could have been much more had PR Sreejesh, the man in the Indian goal not stood tall much like a rock to thwart their countless attempts.
As the game moved into the final quarter with only a solitary goal separating the two sides, Britain continued their relentless attacks though the Indian defence showed discipline, more than what we saw in the third quarter.
Things got uglier for India as about six minutes before close their captain Manpreet Singh was shown a yellow for a tough challenge on a Great Britain player.
India were down to ten men and my heart beat rose as the thought of the opposition equalising plagued my mind amid Are we yet to see another India exit? Could this be our end, surely not, but what if it is?
Well, to my pleasant surprise, against the run of play, India managed a third through Hardik Singh just three minutes before time through a brilliant counter attack with the midfielder making no mistake in slotting in the rebound after his first attempt was saved.
India were 3-1 to the good and boy was I relived!
With much purpose and discipline the Bharat Army had sealed the deal to soar into the semi-finals.
The mighty Belgium await us next
With turnaround time between games at this event being as short as the chance of controlling India’s unabated fuel prices, the Bharat Army play the mighty Belgium as early as tomorrow, the number two ranked side in World Hockey in the all-important semi-final.
The Belgians will come hard at us as their style of play is based on relentless attacking much like their footballing counterparts and India will have to show oodles of discipline to keep their defence strong.
Make no mistake, India is also now number three in World Hockey and the purpose they have shown in their attacking intent this far in the competition could put Belgium also at sixes and sevens.
Surely an epic game awaits us as its not only the 11 Indians on the field who need to soar to the finals but the 1.4 billion back home who have been waiting 41 years for this moment.
After all, amid the catastrophes in the last year and a half, India surely needs inspiration!