A Gurjit Kaur penalty corner (PC) conversion in the 22nd minute, combined with a massive performance from Savita Punia in goal, helped India pull off the mother of all upsets at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday, as they beat three-time champions Australia 1-0 to book themselves a maiden semi-final berth in women’s hockey.
On Wednesday, India will face Argentina, who beat Germany 3-0 earlier on Monday.
To give context to the upset, India had won just two matches coming into the knockouts, while Australia were five for five. In fact, Australian goalkeeper Rachael Lynch had conceded just one goal, in their very first match, a 3-1 win over Spain. Australia came into the Olympics ranked second, while India were ninth to begin with, and had slid to 12th after losing their first three matches.
Australia started strong in the match, but the first signs of this being India’s day came when Savita pulled off a save off the first PC that India conceded. India then grew in confidence, playing out comfortably from the back and creating attacking patterns going forward.
Both sides hit the post once each in the first quarter, and India capitalised on the first PC they got. Gurjit, their ace drag-flicker, had not scored yet in Tokyo, though she was beginning to get back to her best towards the end of the group stages. Here, she gathered herself, and whipped a low ball in to the left of Lynch, who had already committed to her right.
Australia had 14 shots to India’s five, but what stood out each time was the defensive discipline of the Indian team, who crouched low inside their circle, and avoided too many defensive errors. Savita pulled off nine saves in all, using all of her body to keep Australia at bay.
As soon as the final hooter sounded, the Indians broke out in celebration, with head coach Sjoerd Marijne and analytical coach Janneke Schopman joining the team huddle at the end, where the whoops of joy were in stark constrast to the stunned silence in the Australian ranks.