The Indian men’s hockey team secured its spot in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics after a 3-1 win over defending champion Argentina in a Pool A game at the Oi Hockey stadium here on Thursday. 

The side – stung by the Aussies in its second group game – has bounced back with two wins on the trot and will take on host Japan in its last group stage game on Friday. 

Fresh from a 3-0 win over Spain on Tuesday, Graham Reid’s team played with gusto and looked composed throughout the four quarters. The transition from attack to defence was seamless, with Amit Rohidas acting as a bridge between the two ends of the pitch.

MATCH BLOG | Tokyo Olympics, Hockey highlights: India defeats Argentina 3-1

The Indian side took the fight to the opposition from the onset, with Harmanpeet Singh making mazy runs into the penalty circle. India nearly went ahead in the 25th minute as Nilakanta Sharma’s defence-splitting ball found a diving Simranjeet Singh, but his outstretched attempt was not on target. 

Indian goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh was untested for large parts and made his first save in the 27th minute, a sharp block to his left. The Indians dominated the first half but had nothing to show for it.  

The side began to find some success in the circle only after the 40th minute – winning seven penalty corners in quick succession. The goal came off the third when Varun Kumar scored to give India the lead.  

Argentina struck back in the 47th minute when Maico Casella scored from the side’s first penalty corner of the game. 

READ | Tokyo Olympics: Australia thumps India 7-1 in men's hockey Pool A

However, Manpreet Singh’s side was rewarded for its relentless attacking play as Vivek Sagar Prasad turned in Dilpreet Singh’s cross and soon Harmanpreet fired a ferocious drag flick – within a minute of each other – to secure the all-important win. 

Skipper Manpreet noted that the win over the reigning champion was crucial but stressed the need to remain grounded. “It was a very important game for us. We will not fly and let this result get to our heads.  The tournament is not over, we have a game tomorrow against the home team Japan and then the quarterfinals as well. It’s important for us to remain grounded,” he said. 

Reid, too, was pleased with his side’ performance. “A couple of good strategies worked out today and that is pleasing to see. Our game plan was very well, we created opportunities but just could not put them away. The message at half-time was just don’t get frustrated. I used the example of yesterday's game between Australia and New Zealand, they finished the job – that’s what good teams do,” he said. 

The Australian, however, said the team needed to work on its positioning in the circle. “I want to focus on and explain to them to work on our positioning of players inside the circle to give more options. That’s how you win corners and having options also distracts the defenders,” he said. “We just need to keep improving. We have not had an ideal preparation. It’s really accelerated learning during the first four games for us. This is the first three or four games that this team has played together. Every (squad of) 16 or 18 has its own signature. It’s taking us a while to develop this signature.” 

Terming the 7-1 loss to Australia a “wake up call”, Manpreet said: “The whole team was disappointed. The focus was to make a strong comeback. We had decided even before the Olympics that we would take it one match at a time. The discussion after the loss to Australia was to look ahead at the upcoming games and it made us realise that we cannot take any team lightly.  It was a good win for us, and we will carry the momentum into tomorrow’s game.”