MUMBAI (IANS) — India's entry in the men's hockey semi-finals at the Olympic Games has provided succor to all those players who had attempted but had failed in the pursuit for more than four decades, said Moscow Olympic gold medal winner Merwyn Fernandes Aug. 1.
Manpreet Singh's team beat Great Britain 3-1 in a quarterfinal match, absorbing tremendous pressure in the second half to seal a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1972.
"There can't be better news for a hockey player who loves this game. Reaching the semi-finals has been the aim for the hockey teams since 1972 – I will not include Moscow as it was a round-robin league – but they struggled to get through. For years, we have been at the receiving end of comments like the hockey players were not up to the mark, that they are no longer good. Now we will not hear people saying such things," Fernandes told IANS on Sunday.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik congratulated the team for its win and said all were very proud of them. "Congratulations India. All the best for the semi-finals. All of us are very proud of you," he said.
Fernandes said the team played brilliantly and won a match despite not earning a single penalty corner.
He praised goalkeeper PR Sreejesh for standing up to the British attacks. "Sreejesh was like a rock, the Rock of Gibraltar," said Fernandes.
Another Moscow Olympics gold medalist, MM Somaya, said this team was one of the better ones that India has sent to the Olympics. "This is a better team, one of the fittest. Their rotations were very good, they are tactically very smart," said Somaya, who led India at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Joaquim Carvalho, a member of the 1984 Olympics team which narrowly missed making the semi-finals, said: "It was a great team effort, good performance by all the players. They defended well and Sreejesh was very good."
Carvalho said the British players were clueless in the final third and lacked the skills to get the better of the Indian defenders.
"Great Britain lacked the skills to tackle strong defense, their forwards were clueless. They had so many chances but could not capitalize on any," he said.
Carvalho said if the Indian team managed to get past Belgium, it would start as a strong gold medal contender. "If we get past Belgium, they can win the gold medal," he said.
IANS adds from Tokyo: Earlier, India started off well and went into the lead in the seventh minute after Great Britain had earned the first penalty corner of the match in the third minute. Amit Rohidas rushed forward to cut down the space, which did not allow the rivals to take a clear shot.
India took control of the first quarter and scored when Dilpreet capitalized on a superb move and pass by Gurjant to slam the ball past the goalkeeper.
India dictated the pace, dominated the midfield, and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh stood like a rock, denying the British goals off penalty corners as well as their forward Sam Ward, who looked threatening on a couple of occasions.
Sreejesh was the best Indian player in the first half as she denied the British forwards on several occasions.
Gurjant Singh made it 2-0 in the second quarter with another superb field goal, his third in the Tokyo Olympics so far.
Great Britain picked up the tempo in the second quarter and created a number of chances, always looking to Sam Ward to provide the final push towards the goal. But with the Indian defense, manned by Amit Rohidas, Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Sumit blocking, tackling and thwarting the rivals, Great Britain found the going tough.