Grit and gumption: Lessons from the German hockey team

With just 11 fit players in the squad, Germany wound back the clock to almost do the impossible in modern times – play an entire game without replacements and pull off a victory. It fell short but not for lack of effort.

Germany suffered a narrow loss to India in the third-place playoff.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

Every sport needs its heroes. And if hockey needed men to prove what it meant to play the sport for your country, Germany provided 11 on Sunday.

Eleven men. Twenty two legs. Fourteen minutes of rest (Dan Nguyen got 16). It was a throwback to the days of yore when substitutions were
unknown in hockey. Those days ended 44 years back. Germany wound back the clock to almost do the impossible in modern times – play an entire game without replacements and pull off a victory. It fell short but not for lack of effort.

READ: Australia retains HWL Finals crown

An injury in the very first game of the tournament is not a good omen for any team. Timur Oruz, member of the 2016 Olympic bronze-winning
side, flew back. But Germany closed ranks and pulled through, topping its pool and then entering the semifinals via shootouts. Then, tragedy
struck.

Captain Martin Haner, Julius Meyer, Christopher Ruhr and Marko Miltaku had fever as the twice-Olympic champion took on defending and eventual champion Australia with 13 men. It still put up a brave fight. Twenty hours later, Ferdinand Weinke and Dieter Linnekogel joined the sick bay and Mark Appel found himself discarding the goalkeeper's kit, holding a stick in hand and positioned at the other end from where he stays – the opposition striking circle. He was destined to score.

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Modern hockey is one of the toughest and fastest sports internationally. But there is a reason Germany is also considered the toughest in the game. The World No. 5 stunned the world when it scored twice in the last minute to win its quarterfinal against New Zealand at the Rio Olympics. Sunday would rank as high, maybe higher.

“I think this game I spoke only about the emotional things. But it’s always good to keep the emotions down and find little things. Today the whole power and spirit came off the team. The idea to win for each other can be the most important and we showed what 11 players fighting together for a common goal can do,” German coach Stefan Kermas admitted after the game.

“I am really happy with the performance...It’s much more important to see the kind of spirit this team developed to push each other in such an important match. Look at the smile (on captain Mats Grambusch),” he laughed.

Star striker Florian Fuchs managed to laugh too. He found it funny that the only goalscorer on the team sheet was its goalkeeper. “It's unbelievable, it's actually funny that our goalkeeper scored. This was the first time he played as an outfield player and obviously, the first goal he has scored ever, but it is unbelievable,” he grinned.

That the Germans could afford to laugh was testament to the fact that there was no shame in the defeat. If anything, they showed what fighting for, and alongside, each other meant.

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