Belief and maximum effort: Indian women's mantra behind Australia hockey win

India women executed their plan with surgical precision as they split open the Australia backline at will, scored an all-important goal and stitched it up with a leakproof defence.

Head coach Sjoerd Marijne said that he never lost faith in the Indian women's hockey squad after its three successive opening losses at the Tokyo Olympics.

The heavens wept and so did the Indians. When the hooter went off at 13:31 JST – some sank to their knees, others looked to the heavens in disbelief and the bench ran to the pitch. It was perhaps the fastest 50m dash of their lives. This was history right here and each of them wanted to celebrate. The Indian women’s hockey team had done the unthinkable by beating three-time Olympic champion Australia for a place in the semifinal. 

“I seriously don’t know what to say. I am super proud of the team. Before the game we said one thing to each other – ‘just give everything you have on the pitch today. Don’t look ahead, it’s the next 60 minutes that count. Put every drop of energy you have into the next 60 minutes and stick to your roles’,” skipper Rani Rampal said.  

The women executed the plan with surgical precision. They split open the Australian backline at will, scored the all-important goal and stitched it up with a leakproof defence. 

The match-winning goal came from Gurjit Kaur, one of the seniors in this young squad. Gurjit had been under pressure throughout this campaign - the defence had shipped in 14 goals ahead of the quarterfinals and she was unable to convert any of her penalty corners. But on Monday, she struck gold. 

“We had only one penalty corner and it was important to convert that. It was great that my team created the chance for me and each of us gets credit for it,” she said, humble in victory.

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“I’m very happy for Gurjit. She would have gotten a lot of comments if she didn’t score that one. I kept telling her that we just needed one goal to make a difference,” coach Sjoerd Marijne said. 

India goalkeeper Savita, a superhero between the sticks, said the team was primed to play Australia. “We wanted to face Australia in the quarterfinal because we have played them earlier and know that we can play our natural game against them. They give us space and we took advantage of that today,” she said, as the skies opened up and she ran for cover. 

Coach Marijne, who’s got his movie references right much like his tactics, said: “It’s important for us to remain in the moment. We will savour this win, celebrate it. We need to enjoy this moment and realise what just happened.” 

He added that he never lost faith in the squad after its three successive opening losses. “Just because they lost, doesn’t mean I stopped believing in them. That’s what I told the girls. The most important thing is staying in the moment, which is very difficult for an athlete,” he said. “We believed in ourselves and the dream that these girls have chased. We don’t concern ourselves with the ‘what ifs’. We focus on what’s our job as a team and as an individual, and that’s why we have made it so far.” 

This bunch of 16 girls have dared to dream. And we’re living the dream with them. 

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