The Indian women’s hockey team’s ambition to win their first Olympic medal was shattered on Friday after being defeated 3-4 by Great Britain in a hard-fought bronze play-off match at the current Games. India’s largest Olympic result was a fourth-place finish in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. There were no semifinals in that edition because six teams competed in a round-robin style, with the top two teams advancing to the final.
The Indian women had already achieved history and outperformed all expectations by reaching the Games semifinals first. However, the first Olympic medal proved elusive as world no. 4 Great Britain, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, won the tough competition.
Great Britain started the match at a breakneck tempo, leaving the Indian forwards with no chance and, in turn, providing numerous opportunities for their forward line. However, Indian goalkeeper Savita Punia rose to the situation with some outstanding saves, ensuring that the team remained goalless heading into the second quarter.
The Britain players quickly made their dominance count, forcing an own goal from Indian defender Deep Grace Ekka in the second quarter after a spectacular run down the right flank by ES Rayer. After Nisha received the green card, the Britain team quickly increased their lead with a wonderful pacy field goal by Sarah Robertson.
The Indian team then abruptly changed gears, scoring two goals in quick succession — both from penalty corners by Gurjit Kaur — to tie the game against the British. Gurjit’s drag-flicker hit both the PC to Maddy Hinch’s left and the defence, giving them no time to react.
Vandana Katariya took the Indian team a critical lead in the dying minutes of the first half with a fantastic poacher of a finish after she latched on to a loose ball inside the D. Going into the second half, India had a 3-2 lead over the United Kingdom.
Great Britain’s forwards showed more resolve in the second half. Pearne-Webb used a wonderful play as she arrived with the captain’s magic to equalize for the European team as they raced onto the right-wing once more.
After Udita received a yellow card for a violent tackle in the D early in the fourth quarter, India was reduced to ten players for five minutes. Balderson gave the squad the lead through PC, proving that Britain’s pressure and one-player advantage had paid off.
In the waning stages of the match, Indian forwards crowded to Great Britain’s D, but the Rio 2016 gold medalists kept their cool and won the bronze.
Journey at the Olympics
They dropped their first three games of the season before mounting an incredible comeback in the next three. The Indian team got off to a bad start in the tournament, as the Netherlands scored five goals in the first game.
Following a loss to the Netherlands, India faced Germany to win their first victory at the Tokyo Olympics. The opponents were ruthless, winning the game 2-0. Then they lost 1-4 to the United Kingdom, which was a waste of time.
After Ireland’s loss to India, India opened their points tally on the points table and kept their qualification hopes alive. Then they beat South Africa 4-3, a win by the slimmest of margins.
India entered the quarter-final against Australia with confidence after winning their last two matches. However, Great Britain drew level in the fourth minute of the second half and went on to win bronze. The Indian women’s hockey team’s historic run at the Tokyo Olympics was built on self-belief and determination.