India fought back to equalise from 0-2 down but Rio 2016 champions Great Britain edged them 4-3 to win the Tokyo Olympics women’s hockey bronze medal at the Oi Hockey Stadium on Friday.
Great Britain scored through Ellie Rayer (16th minute), Sarah Robertson (24th), Hollie Pearne-Webb (35th) and Grace Balsdon (48th). India hit back via Gurjit Kaur (25th and 26th) and Vandana Katariya (29th) but were unable to find the late equaliser.
It ended a dream run for the Indian women’s hockey team that had finished last at Rio 2016, having qualified for the Olympics after 36 years, and for a side that had lost its first three group games at Tokyo 2020, the third to Great Britain 1-4.
On Friday, India gave away a penalty corner in the second minute itself but goalkeeper Savita Punia palmed the British drag-flick over the goal. Savita Punia was in action at least four more times in the first quarter alone to deny the British.
The Indians were letting Great Britain run unchecked on the right flank in particular and make regular circle incursions. Moreover, their defence was exceedingly hesitant to clear the ball.
The Indian midfield and forward line weren’t in sync and their occasional runs into the British third lacked threat.
All those British surges on the right flank finally bore fruit early in the second. Ellie Rayer tore into the Indian circle, lifting the ball on to her stick and launching a cross which was unfortunately deflected into the goal by Indian defence lead Deep Grace Ekka.
Lalremsiami had a chance to equalise soon after but she took some time to set up for her reverse hit, and goalie Madeleine Hinch pulled off a superb save to her right with her stick.
India were a player down for two minutes when Nisha Warsi got a green card, and Britain doubled down immediately. Another cross from the right flank culminated in a spectacular off-balance reverse hit from Sarah Robertson, who went sprawling after the shot with her team-mates piling on top in delight.
Against Germany in the men’s bronze medal match, India’s Harmanpreet Singh had fired in two drag-flicks in the 25th and 29th minutes. It was Gurjit Kaur who stepped up now, converting successive penalty corners to haul India back at 2-2.
And like in the Germany game, the momentum had been forced to switch sides. Sharmila Devi now stormed into the British circle, dodging multiple defenders and having only the goalie to beat. She just missed.
Moments later, Vandana Katariya didn’t with a tap, following a goalmouth scrap after a Lalremsiami cross. In a matter of five minutes, 0-2 had transformed into 3-2 at half-time.
Great Britain regrouped and forced a penalty corner early in the third, but there was more life in the Indian defence now and Monika Malik intercepted the deflection close to the goal-line.
Nevertheless, the British equalised through Hollie Pearne-Webb’s strike fed by yet another cross following a right-flank charge.
Savita Punia was being called upon to make more saves as the Indians scrapped to maintain parity. India countered deep with a couple of seconds left in the third but Gurjit Kaur wasn’t on the field to take the penalty corner and captain Rani Rampal’s attempt off a variation found Hinch in the way.
The Indian women’s hockey team was weakened right away in the fourth as Udita Duhan received a yellow card for a rough tackle in the circle. Five minutes with 10 women was going to be hard to get away with. And even though India were brave in defence, Grace Balsdon put Great Britain in front off their seventh penalty corner.
As soon as Udita returned, Sharmila got herself a green card, still keeping India down to 10. They continued to fight, but a Gurjit drag-flick off India’s eighth penalty corner was saved by Hinch.
Navjot Kaur set up another opportunity with a brilliant reverse hit of a parallel cross only for Lalremsiami to miss the tap.
India asked for a last-gasp penalty corner for a British scooped clearance but it was deemed to be not dangerous. And that ended the Indian bronze dream, leaving even the great Rani Rampal in tears.