‘Manpreet’s team has brought hockey back in limelight’

India’s entry in the men’s hockey semi-finals at the Olympic Games has provided succour to all those players who had attempted but had failed in the pursuit for more than four decades, said Moscow Olympic gold medal winner Merwyn Fernandes on Sunday.

Manpreet Singh’s team beat Great Britain 3-1 in a quarterfinal match, absorbing tremendous pressure in the second half to seal a place in the semi-finals for the first time since 1972.

“There can’t be better news for a hockey player who loves this game. Reaching the semi-finals has been the aim for the hockey teams since 1972 — I will not include Moscow as it was a round-robin league — but they struggled to get through. For years, we have been at the receiving end of comments like the hockey players were not up to the mark, that they are no longer good. Now we will not hear people saying such things,” Fernandes told IANS on Sunday.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik congratulated the team for its win and said all were very proud of them. “Congratulations India. All the best for the semi-finals. All of us are very proud of you,” he said.

Fernandes said the team played brilliantly and won a match despite not earning a single penalty corner.

He praised goalkeeper PR Sreejesh for standing up to the British attacks. “Sreejesh was like a rock, the Rock of Gibraltar,” said Fernandes.

Another Moscow Olympics gold medallist, MM Somaya, said this team was one of the better ones that India has sent to the Olympics. “This is a better team, one of the fittest. Their rotations were very good, they are tactically very smart,” said Somaya, who led India at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Joaquim Carvalho, a member of the 1984 Olympics team which narrowly missed making the semi-finals, said: “It was a great team effort, good performance by all the players. They defended well and Sreejesh was very good.”

Carvalho said the British players were clueless in the final third and lacked the skills to get the better of the Indian defenders.

“Great Britain lacked the skills to tackle strong defence, their forwards were clueless. They had so many chances but could not capitalise on any,” he said.

Carvalho said if the Indian team managed to get past Belgium, it would start as a strong gold medal contender. “If we get past Belgium, they can win the gold medal,” he said.