The Indian women’s hockey team players were determination personified against Australia. And their hard work, perseverance and commitment to cover the ball as well as the opposition players right through the match paid off as they beat the Aussies 1-0 to enter the semifinals at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday.
The history makers -- they are entering the Games semifinals for the first time -- stunned three-time champions and World no.2 Australia in an intense last-eight match to join the men in the final four.
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On Sunday, the Indian men's team entered the semifinals following a 49-year gap. The women’s side, ranked ninth in the world, produced an equally gritty performance to make its way into the medal round.
Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur converted India's lone penalty corner in the 22nd minute to take the lead and shock the Australians, who were the odds-on favourites coming into the match.
"We are so happy, it is the result of hard work that we put in for several, several days. In 1980, we qualified for the Games but this time, we made the semifinals. It is a proud moment for us," said the goalscorer after the match.
"This team is like a family, we have supported each other and found support from the country as well. We are very happy," she added.
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The Indian coach, Sjoerd Marijne, had said after the side sealed the quarters spot in the last possible moment, that everything resets in the knockouts. The tournament restarts again. He was spot on from then on, each match is a fresh start -- a make or break affair. While that can work either way, meticulous planning and execution of strategy is what it takes. And Indians were spot on, playing to their strengths, and the mistakes, which they had committed in the group stages, were all but ironed out from their game.
India went into the quarterfinal determined to prove a point, and produced a strong and brave performance. How much it meant for the team and Indian hockey in general could be gauged from the emotions that were on display after the final hooter went off.
The players screamed, hugged each other, and got into a huddle with their Dutch coach Marijne. Tears of joy rolled down their faces.
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Australia had the first shot at the goal but India goalkeeper Savita did just enough to deny Amrosia Malone, whose slap shot from inside the circle hit the post.
The Indians thereafter adopted an aggressive approach and caught the Australian defence off guard quite a few times.
India's pace and determination seemed to have surprised the Australians as they panicked while defending and were lucky not to have conceded a goal in the first quarter.
In the ninth minute, skipper Rani Rampal's deflection from a Vandana Katariya shot hit the back post as Australia survived. A minute later, Broke Peris' shot from top of the circle just went wide past a fully stretched Savita.
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The Indians created another chance in the first quarter but an alert Australian goalkeeper Rachael Lynch came out of her line to deny Sharmila Devi from a one-on-one situation.
The Australians pressed hard in the second quarter and secured their first penalty corner in the 20th minute which was defended brilliantly by India.
Minutes later, India secured their first penalty corner and Gurjit, who had a disappointing outing so far in the tournament, rose to the occasion and converted the chance with a low flick to stun the Australians.
The Indians were bold and courageous while defending as minutes later, Deep Grace Ekka got a vital stick to keep out Emily Chalker's strong hit from close range.
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Down by a goal, the Australians attacked with numbers after the change of ends and Mariah Williams came close to restoring parity but Savita came in between.
Australia earned three back-back-to-back penalty corners soon but the Indian defence, led by Savita and Deep Grace Ekka, stood like a rock in front of the goal.
Thereafter, the play was mostly inside the Indian circle as Australia pressed hard but the Indians managed to soak up the pressure with some brave defending, not afraid to put their bodies on the line.
In the final eight minutes of the game, the pressure was relentless on the Indians as Australia secured four more penalty corners but failed to breach the willpower of the Indian defence.
(With additions from PTI)
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