While the Manpreet Singh-led men’s team, who battled a heartbreaking slump in the last four decades, made the resurgence of the last couple of years count in the best way possible with a bronze medal, the Rani Rampal-led women’s team was hit by the curse of a fourth-place finish after losing 3-4 to Britain in the bronze medal playoff. Despite that, it was the women’s team’s best ever show in the Games’ history.
Manpreet & Co scripted a spectacular comeback to remember against Germany in the play-off to arrest a 41-year hiatus, and lay the platform of hockey’s resurgence for a generation that only satisfied themselves with the tales of greatness.
Barring a 1-7 thrashing at the hands of Australia, when India conceded four goals in just about 30 minutes, Manpreet and Co dominated the group stage with clinical wins over New Zealand (3-2), Spain (3-0), Argentina (3-1) and Japan (5-3).
At the cusp of making history by becoming the first team to enter the Olympic semifinals for the first time in 49 years, the Indians grabbed the opportunity with both hands, by handing a 3-1 defeat to Britain in the quarterfinals.
Up against eventual gold medallists and reigning world champions Belgium in the semifinal, the Indians started well to be locked at 2-2 till the fourth quarter, when things changed dramatically. The Belgians pumped in three more goals to end India’s gold medal dreams.
The bronze medal play-off against Germany provided the Indians another chance for a podium finish. Already under pressure after the intense semifinal, the Indians initially conceded a 1-3 lead before scripting one of the most incredible comebacks in hockey as Manpreet’s side fired four goals in mere seven minutes to clinch a medal after four decades.
Towards the end of the year, the Indian team was back in action at the Asian Champions Trophy, where the defending champions failed to retain their title and ended up as bronze medallists after beating arch-rivals Pakistan.
Rupinder Pal Singh
One of India’s most charismatic defenders, and a drag-flick specialist Rupinder Pal Singh decided to hang his boots after returning from Tokyo. The Chandigarh Hockey Academy product slammed four goals at the Olympics, including a penalty stroke against Germany.
The 30-year-old’s decision to quit the sport did raise a few eyebrows, especially considering the kind of form he has been in during the Olympics.
Rupinder roared back into the team with some impressive performances after being dropped from the World Cup team in 2018, and went on to form a potent force in the company of Harmanpreet Singh in Tokyo. He has two Asian Games medals in his kitty — a gold in 2014 Incheon and bronze in 2018 Jakarta.
Rupinder’s career has also been marred by injuries as a hamstring problem almost ended his career in 2017, a time he once described as the “toughest phase” of his life.
So close yet so far for women’s team
The Indian women’s team came up with their best ever show in Tokyo, but fell short of a maiden podium finish after losing 3-4 to Britain in the bronze medal play-off. Despite that, Rani Rampal and Co exceeded all expectations, especially after their forgettable outing in Rio 2016, when they finished at the bottom of the table.
Three goals in a span of five minutes helped India overturn a two-goal deficit and take a slender 3-2 lead at half time, but Britain made a stunning comeback after the breather to pick the bronze.
India’s campaign in Tokyo began with three straight losses in the pool stage but bounced back in style to stun the mighty Australians in the quarterfinal. The women may have lost out on a medal but won a billion hearts.
Win 3-2 vs NZ
Loss 1-7 vs Australia
Win 3-0 vs Spain
Win 3-1 vs Argentina
Win 5-3 vs Japan
Win 3-1 vs Great Britain (QF)
Loss 2-5 vs Belgium (SF)
Win 5-4 vs Germany (Bronze medal play-off)
Loss 1-5 vs Netherlands
Loss 0-2 vs Germany
Loss 1-4 vs Great Britain
Win 1-0 vs Ireland
Win 4-3 vs South Africa
Win 1-0 vs Australia (QF)
Loss 1-2 vs Argentina (SF)
Loss 3-4 vs Great Britain (Bronze medal play-off)