Taking inspiration from the men’s team that got into the medal rounds after a gap of four decades, Indian women scripted a historic moment of their own by making a maiden entry into the semifinals of the Olympics hockey tournament in Tokyo on Monday.
India defeated world No. 2 Australia 1-0 in the quarterfinals to storm into the last-four stage, marking their maiden entry into the medal round with a brilliant performance against a team that had dominated the tournament so far and was one of the favorites to win the gold medal.
Drag flicker Gurjit Kaur scored the all-important goal in the 22nd minute with a powerful flick that deflected off a defender’s stick into the goal.
India will now meet two-time silver medallists Argentina in the semifinals on Wednesday, with a win taking them into the final, which would be unprecedented. The biggest surprise in women’s hockey to date has been Zimbabwe winning the gold medal in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
The credit for the win goes to the Indian defense that did not allow Australia, three-time gold medallists in the Olympics, to score in the entire second half with defenders Deep Grace Ekka, Udita, and Gurjit Kaur and midfielder Monika, standing like a wall to guard the goal. And whenever the Aussies got past them, goalkeeper Savita was there to save India as she pulled off at least seven brilliant saves to thwart the Hockeyroos.
The Indian deep defense’s superiority could be gauged from the fact that Australia had 14 shots at the goal but could not score even once. They earned nine penalty corners, tried two drag flickers and a few indirect variations but all were thwarted by the Indians.
The Indians attacked aggressively, defended stoutly, and controlled the midfield that allowed them to enjoy possession in the first half. Australia could not get into their rhythm early on and looked clueless against a defensive unit and a goalkeeper that did not make any mistakes.
India dominated the first half; they enjoyed more possession and created better chances against an Australian team that had finished Pool B with an all-win record in five matches.
They were not cowed down by the reputation of the world No. 2 teams and stood toe-to-toe with the mighty Hockeyroos.
Australia earned the first chance when Ambrosia Malone struck the post off their first penalty corner.
The Indians too were unlucky not to take the lead in the first quarter as Sharmila’s shot at the far post came off the upright. Vandana Katariya made a superb run to the left backline and sent in a pullback to Lalremsiami who had positioned herself near the far post. However, her deflection came off the post as the two teams went into the first-quarter break goalless.
The Indians started aggressively and did not allow the Aussie forwards, who have been rampant in the group stage, many chances. They defended well and in numbers, especially Deep Grace Ekka and Monika were solid and brilliant as they cut down many Australian moves.
Goalkeeper Savita was rock solid and pulled off a number of good saves.
The second quarter changed the complexion of the match as the Indians went into the lead, leaving Australia frustrated.
India earned a penalty corner in the 21st minute of the match and went ahead, increasing the pressure on the Hockeyroos. Drag flicker Gurjit Kaur, who had failed to score a single direct goal despite a bag full of chances, struck for India, her drag-flick getting deflected from a defender’s stick and looping over goalkeeper Rachael Ann Lynch’s outstretched leg into the goal.
Australia attacked in numbers but found the Indian defense, especially goalkeeper Savita, impregnable. The Australians earned three penalty corners but could not capitalize on any. They had seven shots at the goal.