'Could see in the eyes, no one wanted to lose': Harmanpreet recalls how India bounced back to win bronze - Exclusive
- In an exclusive interaction, defender Harmanpreet Singh explained how the Indian defence kept up their morale to bounce back and win the bronze-medal match 5-3 against Germany.
At the start of the bronze medal match against Germany at the Tokyo Olympics, the Manpreet Singh-led Indian team suffered an early second back. A late stick from Timur Oruz from inside the scoring circle gave the Germans a 1-0 lead, putting pressure on the Graham Reid-coached side.
In a high-pressure, do-or-die affair, conceding an early goal could always put extensive pressure on the defence. This is precisely what happened in the second quarter. Just a few minutes after Simranjeet Singh found the equalizer, back-to-back defensive errors saw Germany score two more goals, taking a lead of 3-1 in the match.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Hindustan Times, defender Harmanpreet Singh explained how Indian defence kept up their morale to bounce back and win the match 5-3.
"I don't think conceding early goals affected our confidence at all, because in sports, it often happens, that if you become nervous, the opposition tends to get stronger against you," Harmanpreet said.
"We went down 3-1 at one point. But at that point, I could see in everyone's eyes that none of us wanted to lose that match. All players were motivating each other that we can bridge this gap, and take a lead as well. So, we just needed to keep faith in ourselves, and we had that opportunity to use our energy and prove ourselves," he further added.
Being a dragflicker in the team, Harmanpreet had an additional responsibility to score goals for the team whenever India were awarded a penalty corner. He had a similar opportunity in the second quarter itself, and he made no errors, getting India back on level footing before the end of first half.
Also Read | Sreejesh accorded grand reception in Kochi
But did Harmanpreet, who scored six goals at the Games, ever feel the pressure of his dual responsibilities in Tokyo?
"Not at all, I had no pressure of the dual duties I was doing. Because the coaches believed in me, the players believed in me. And I had also done so much hard work in all departments. So, of course, it is my responsibility as well, that I do my best in defence, and whenever we are getting penalty corners, I convert that as well," he said.
Indian's team face in the medal match against Germany changed at halftime. Immediately at the start of the third quarter, India were awarded a penalty stroke which Rupinder Pal Singh converted easily. Minutes later, Simranjeet added another goal as India took a two-goal lead in the match. Harmanpreet revealed the conversation that took place between the players and coach Reid in the dugout at halftime.
"At halftime, we discussed with coach Graham Reid about our plans. We need to put pressure on balls, man-to-man marking. We needed to stay closer to the man we are marking so that they are unable to free the ball. If we are playing zonal, so we need to plan how to keep balls in our zones," he said.
"We knew all of it - but sometimes during the game, the tempo changes. During matches, you are sometimes unable to hear something a player closer to you is saying. But all of us have played for so long - and we all have experienced this before. How to handle pressure, and how to play, and that's what we were reminded," he added.
India were able to defend their lead and scripted history by winning a bronze medal - the first medal in men's hockey in 41 years. Harmanpreet described the medal ceremony as one of the proudest moments of his life.
"It was one of the best moments of my life. A really proud moment. The flag I could see over there, and it was the first time I was experiencing such a moment. It was emotional and happy that our word came bore fruits. I cannot explain in words how I felt at that time but this will remain etched in my memory all my life," he explained.