India women’s hockey team created history on Monday as they stunned three-time Olympic champions Australia 1-0 to enter their first Olympic semi-finals in Tokyo 2020. Drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur converted India’s lone penalty corner in the 22nd minute into a goal and that turned out to be the difference between both sides.
The Indian team were in sublime form and Gurjit Kaur (22′) emerged as the only goal-scorer of the match. At the other end, Savita Punia was invincible under the frame as she made nine saves in the match. The Indian team will face off against world no. 5 Argentina in the semifinal on Wednesday.
It is under Dutch coach Sjoerd Marijne that the India women’s hockey team recorded the historic feat. Taking over as the head coach of the team in 2017, the 47-year-old has instilled a champion’s mentality into the side by working on the mindset of the players.
Former India women’s team coach Harendra Singh, who led the side to a gold medal-win at the 2017 Women’s Hockey Asia Cup, credited the Dutchman for empowering them with self-belief and the all-round development.
He also had a special mention about the team’s lead scientific advisor (athletic performance), Wayne Lombard, who has worked closely on the players’ strength and conditioning.
“Sjoerd (Marijne) has worked really hard with the team in every department, a huge congratulations to him. He empowered and gave self belief to these girls. Credit goes to Sjoerd,” Harendra told Olympics.com
“Of course no one is talking about Wayne Lombard, he has a huge influence and he is the man who brought the fitness level on par with any team in the world,” he added.
After taking the slender advantage in the 22nd minute, the Indian eves stood firm and defied their Australian counterparts. Harendra credited their defensive abilities for the thrilling victory.
“Playing full press against Australia, did not allow their midfield to receive the ball. Plus, it put too much pressure on the ball carrier, which was key in today’s match. Excellent defending right from striker to goalkeeper,” Harendra said.
“This team has every skill in modern hockey. They have been together since 2016 and playing as a unit. They understand each other plus they have very good understanding off and on the pitch,” he added.
Harendra, who has worked closely with striker Vandana Katariya during his stint, reiterated that she is a fighter besides applauding veteran goalkeeper Savita Punia for using her experience and standing ‘like a wall’ throughout the match.
“Vandana (Katariya) is a fighter and a huge motivator on and off the pitch. She deserves an Olympic medal on her neck,” Harendra said.
“She (Savita) is a cool customer like PR Sreejesh (India men’s team goalkeeper). She knows how to deliver and in today’s match she was solid in interception and clearance. She almost stopped two sure goals which was the turning point of India,” he added.
Indian Women team’s performance at Tokyo 2021
The Indian team made successive Olympic appearances for the first time in their history. However, things did not go as planned in the tournament opener as they were thrashed 5-1 by Netherlands. They were outplayed in every department and the final hooter was a welcome siren for the team.
Although they looked more confident against Germany in the second match, they could not match their quality and ended up losing 2-0. Things went further south in their next fixture against Great Britain as they lost 4-1.
In the final two matches of the group stage they needed to win against Ireland and South Africa for a place in the knockouts. Under pressure, the team produced the goods. They eked out a narrow 1-0 victory over the Irish and edged out the Proteas 4-3 in their next game.
Their biggest scalp came in the knockouts when they defeated Australia 1-0 and progressed to the semifinals.