Tokyo, August 3: The India hockey fraternity saw unprecedented scenes of delight over the last two days as both men's and women's teams entered the semifinals at the Tokyo Olympics. The men's outfit will face Belgium on Tuesday (August 3), while the women will lock horns with Argentina on Wednesday (August 4).
It was the first time in India's hockey history that both men's and women's teams entered the last four stage of an Olympics together. In case of women's side, it is a maiden semifinal entry. This was the first major achievement by the India men's team in a Games after their gold winning effort in the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Harendra Singh, the former coach of India men and women hockey team, has seen the journey from close quarters and expressed confidence that both the outfits will be standing on the podium on the winners' slot.
"I don't know what to say! We all have been waiting for this moment for years. Indian hockey teams in Olympic semifinals, that's just unbelievable. It is a matter of pride and joy for all Indians. I am confident that with the kind of hockey both the teams are playing, they will be standing on the winners' podium soon. They have the skill and determination to achieve that and they should focus on playing simple hockey," Harendra told MyKhel from USA, where he is the head coach of the US national team from April, 2021.
Harendra had coached several of the current men's team members like Manpreet Singh, Sumit, Gurjant Singh, Harmanpreet Singh etc during the triumphant run in the 2016 junior World Cup.
"I have seen many of these boys from close quarters. They should manage the emotions and pressure of an Olympic semifinal (against Belgium). The men's entry into semifinal was on a rather expected note because they have been playing well but for that one match against Australia. I am just hoping for an India vs Australia final in men's section," said Harendra, who coached the senior men's side between 2017 and 2018.
But Harendra, who was also in charge of the women's side for some time, said the women's semifinal entry was all the more joyous because it was not really expected.
"In the group stage, they did not play really well but still managed a last-gasp entry into semifinal. But they were expected to be tamed by Australia, a strong side. But once they scored the goal, the Indians defended well and executed their plans in the circle - in attacking or in defending - to stall the Aussies. Mind you, keep Australia in check is not an easy task.
"Gurjit Kaur deserves a special mention. She is a vital cog in this India side. She converted that penalty corner at the right time. She showed a lot of presence of mind to do that as both the teams could not convert any more penalties later. The strike came at the right time for India.
"But kudos to Indians that they were not merely defending after a goal as they tried to find another and kept the Aussies on their toes. Here I must mention Savita Punia, such a brilliant goalkeeper. Australia received several penalty corners but Savita was at the right place to snap many of their attempts. Defenders like Grace and Salima too should be praised for not giving an inch to the Aussie players," he said.
So, how India weighs up against their semifinals opponents - Argentina? The Latin Americans had blanked Germany 3-0 to enter the last four round.
"I would say it's 50-50. We had beaten them recently while touring that nation. But past records do not count for much in an Olympic semifinal. Argentina are a classy side and a tricky opponent. Indians should what they had done against Australia - play simple, organised hockey and don't allow space for the opponents in the midfield. They did that well against the Aussies, and go for a repeat against the Argentines. I am dreaming of an India vs Netherlands final."
Harendra said: "So far our teams have done well and a big congrats to Government of India, SAI, Hockey India etc for all the support they extend to the team. Now, it is up to the players to deliver on this big moment. They can do that provided the teams control their emotions and execute the plans well. Let's all cheer for them."