Indian men win hockey gold at the Asian Games, make cut for 2024 Paris Olympics
Men in blue cruised with a dominant 5-1 victory over defending champion Japan in the final.
India men's hockey team (Via Open Source/X)
A billion plus heartbeats raced, a nation waited with bated breath. In the end, Team India got their revenge against Japan to win the emotional hockey gold medal at the Asian Games in Hangzhou on Friday by a whopping 5-1 margin. Harmanpreet Singh was the undoubted superstar, pumping in two goals.
Flags fluttered in the hockey stands in Hangzhou, the Indian national anthem played, eyes turned moist. This is the beauty and romance of Indian hockey.
India versus Japan had become a bit of a nightmare. Yes, the Indians beat them in the league phase this time, but memories from the last Asian Games in Jakarta (2018) will never go away. In the end, the way the boys/men in blue turned on the heat was crazy. This was a rout, this was total decimation of the red T-shirt Japanese side.
Confidence, belief, and embracing modern hockey with an open heart, India found its heroes through former India captain Manpreet Singh first. If the first half looked tense, in the second and third halves the Indian attacks was flowing. There was creativity as well as purpose.
Yet, what caught the eye in the finale for India was how they have mastered the art of penalty corner conversion. In modern hockey, it is the PC conversion that matters the most. For years, India had lacked strategy. Today, it is all about variation, showing skills, and choosing different execution methods to seal goals.
The way the second and third goals were pumped in by Harmanpreet Singh and Amit Rohidas was proof how much the Indian team has matured. There were doubts, for after the highs of winning a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, there was a slump.
Fans scratched their heads if success had got to the heads of the Indians. Hockey India, the governing body of the sport with former India captain Dilip Tirkey as President, decided to take harsh measures. The big bosses decided coach Graham Reid had to go.
Coach Craig Fulton’s ‘Team India’ has passed the litmus test
In came Craig Fulton, the new coach. A new man at the helm comes in with new ideas. Implementation is one part and execution another. Fulton has obviously struck a rapport with the players. The team first showed at the Asian Champions Trophy in Chennai last month they were peaking. But the acid test was in Hangzhou.
Ghosts of the past kept haunting many, as even in Jakarta, the team had done well in the league phase. Maybe the causal approach of the coach in 2018, Harendra Singh, had spelt disaster. Harendra was sacked and Reid brought in.
Then came the Covid 19 pandemic, training was so hard with so many restrictions in the camp. Yet, behind closed doors, the players were preparing for the Tokyo Olympics. The bronze from Tokyo was no fluke.
To prepare for the next Olympic cycle leading to the Paris Games in 2024 was the goal. To say that fans were not worried would be a lie. This is not the same team that played in Tokyo. There have been a few changes, though evergreen star goalie PR Sreejesh is still there. One man makes a difference repeatedly as he stands tall below the bar.
On a cool evening after light rains, India had to ensure their defense was solid. In the past, there have been instances when errors have cost them. No, not on this day when Bleed Blue was the theme. There was pace in the attack and the way coach Fulton was pumped up reminded one of football managers on the sidelines.
India has qualified for the Olympics, celebrate it. There will be no suspense hereafter. The last time India won gold was in the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, when they ousted Pakistan in a nervy shootout. At that time, Sreejesh was the champion. He is still around, though, this ageless wonder. From now on, Team India can prepare without any worry for Paris. A major headache is over.
This is once again a “Chak De” moment for Indian hockey.
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