India won their first Olympic hockey medal since Moscow 1980 with a display for the ages, recovering from 1-3 down to hold off Germany 5-4 in a thriller and take the bronze in the Tokyo 2020 men’s event.
On Thursday, Simranjeet Singh (17th and 34th minutes) and Harmanpreet Singh (27th and 29th) scored braces each while Rupinder Pal Singh (31st) slotted in a penalty stroke for India.
Timor Oruz (2nd), Niklas Wellen (24th), Benedikt Fürk (25th) and Lukas Windfeder (48th) scored for Germany.
Their stirringly swift comeback through Harmanpreet’s clutch drag-flicking was the final marker of just how far this Indian team, coached by Graham Reid, has progressed in recent years.
Germany had taken the Indian hockey team by surprise with their early pace, forcing action to be concentrated in the Indian circle. Timor Oruz made the most of a goalmouth melee following a reverse hit to tickle in the first goal in the second minute.
India were struggling to get out of their half before managing a deep run courtesy Mandeep Singh. However, Rupinder Pal Singh’s drag-flick off India’s first penalty corner was deflected over the goal by the German defence.
Germany’s speed was constantly threatening to cause more damage and India had few answers. Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was already having to rush out to make his spectacular saves.
At the stroke of the first quarter, Germany were given four successive penalty corners but the Indian men’s hockey team came through that late pressure without additional harm done.
India came out with more attacking intent in the second, and the equaliser arrived two minutes in. Nilakanta Sharma found Simranjeet Singh in the circle with a long ball from the centre; Simranjeet whirled around, dodged a defender and slammed in a powerful reverse hit.
PR Sreejesh was in action yet again on the German counter as India kept deploying more resources on the attack. Vivek Prasad nipped another lightning counter with a timely tackle.
The danger persisted, though, and took its toll in the 24th minute. Nilakanta gave away the ball deep in the German half; that was enough for the Germans to zoom in to a thinly-manned Indian circle. Niklas Wellen’s reverse hit beat PR Sreejesh this time to put Germany ahead again at 2-1.
The Indian defence was being seriously tested now. Surender Kumar was hesitant to clear the ball in the circle and two Germans bore down on him for Benedikt Fürk to tap in a short cross for 3-1 in the 25th minute.
The stung Indians stuck to their forward-pressing ways and hit back with two quick penalty corners. And under the strain of a two-goal deficit, Harmanpreet Singh fired home both his drag-flicks to level the match 3-3 going into the break.
India were handed a precious opening in the first minute of the third quarter when Mandeep was brought down right in front of the German goal. And Rupinder’s penalty stroke beat goalie Alexander Stadler as India went ahead for the first time at 4-3.
India had made little headway on either flank for much of the match. They made up for that now with a terrific incursion on the right edge. Gurjant Singh steamed all the way and his cross found a sprawling Simranjeet for India’s fourth consecutive goal to go 5-3 up in the 34th.
The shoe was on the other foot now. The Indians were tearing into the opposing circle, and the Germans were leaking penalty corners and cards. Rupinder wasn’t able to convert this brace, though. Germany now tried variations on three successive penalty corners but missed.
The Indian hockey team paid for tentatively giving away the ball early in the final quarter. Lukas Windfeder cut the lead to 5-4 with a clean drag-flick off Germany’s eighth penalty corner.
Germany were down to ten men for five minutes with Tobias Hauke getting a yellow. However, India couldn’t score.
Germany took out their goalie in the dying minutes. There were shades of their last-minute goal at Rio 2016 with their 13th penalty corner in the final seconds. Fittingly, PR Sreejesh saved for one last time at the Oi Hockey Stadium to ensure the bronze for India.