The Men in Blue are one of the favourites for a podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics.
A strong performance from the Indian men’s hockey team against Great Britain meant the Men in Blue have now advanced to the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympics. Graham Reid side will face Belgium in the semifinal next, and hopefully will continue their march to the final.
Having won three matches on the trot, India is making its presence felt after a long time at the quadrennial event and looks in good form. The most successful team in the history of Olympics (eight gold, one silver and two bronze) has not claimed a medal in 41 years since 1980 and the Manpreet Singh-led side will look to make amends.
The Indian hockey team spent nearly one and half year in a bio-bubble and went through an extensive preparatory programme under the watchful eyes of coach Graham Reid. After that, they travelled to Europe and put on good displays against strong teams such as Germany and Great Britain. They defeated Olympic champions Argentina in both games at the FIH Pro League, marking a successful comeback to competitive games.
India has, in recent years, performed well in patches. It won the Asia Cup in 2017 and the Gold Medal at 2018 Asian Champions Trophy. Later that year, India were thwarted by Netherlands in the quarterfinals of the World Cup in Bhubaneshwar, with the Dutch ending as runners-up. Captain Manpreet Singh has been a standout performer for the team over the last decade, winning the FIH Player of the Year in 2019.
The overall improvement is also advocated by the gradual rise in rankings, with the indian hockey team currently ranked fourth in the world. The team has the right mix of experience and youthful exuberance, with players such as Manpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Birendra Lakra adding years to the squad. PR Sreejesh, too, brings a lot of gametime and experience under the bar. 10 players have made their debuts at the Tokyo Olympics, proving that Reid has gone on form and versatility over experience.
Why will a medal be a turning point?
The best way to explain this is by looking at wrestling as an Olympic sport. Wrestler Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won India’s first individual medal. He won a bronze at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. For 56 years, India did not have a medal to show at the Olympics in wrestling, until Sushil Kumar won the bronze at Beijing in 2008. Since then, India has won at least 1 medal in wrestling at every edition.
Sushil rubbed and transformed his bronze into silver at the 2012 London Olympics, with Yogeshwar Dutt also winning a bronze in a different weight category. At Rio 2016, Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman to win a medal in wrestling. In the 2020 edition, Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat are definitely medal prospects. Sonam Malik and Deepak Punia cannot be written off as well.
One medal at the Olympics can play the foundation role for better things. This Indian hockey team has performed consistently in the last five-odd years, and is being treated as serious contenders for the first time in four decades for the podium. It will not just befit a unit that has worked very hard over the last couple of years, but will also give India the roadmap for years to come.
The Road Ahead
The Indian hockey team has defeated New Zealand, Argentina, Spain and Japan en route to the last 16. However, it suffered a 7-1 hammering against Australia, a perennial heavyweight. What works in India’s favour is that they have won the last three games going into the quarters, scoring 11 goals and conceding 4. Another important facet of this team is that it has a wide number of players who can score – India had nine different scorers in the group stages, something that will worry coaches of the opposing teams.
The Men In Blue play Belgium on August 3. They defeated Spain 3-1 in the quarterfinals on August 1 to advance to the semis. The world no. 1 ranked team is amongst the favourites and has scored 29 goals while conceding 10 so far in the tournament. It will be an uphill task for India, but Graham Reid surely has the ideas and tools at his disposal to defeat Belgium.