Tokyo Olympics: Britain emerge from the bedlam to win hockey bronze against India

Shona McCallin and Lily Owsley of Team Great Britain celebrate after winning the Women’s Bronze medal match between Great Britain and India

Great Britain’s women won the bronze medal at Oi Hockey Stadium after beating India 4-3 in a thrilling clash at the Tokyo Olympics. Although the Rio 2016 champions relinquished their title following an emphatic semi-final loss to Holland on Wednesday, they dug deep and secured a third successive Games podium finish.

Great Britain dominated the first quarter, shifting the ball around in front of India, dominating without ever threatening. They did not have to wait long for a deserved lead, scoring a minute after the restart. What they wouldn’t have known is the bedlam that was to follow.

A bit of inspired stick work from Ellie Rayer put the defending champions 1-0 up. It looked like she was running out of room as she ventured down the right wing and cut into the shooting circle. However, she decided to take the aerial route, scooping up of the ball, doing a few keep-ups and then putting in into the bodies in the middle where a deflection off an Indian stick deflected it home.

That was 2-0 eight minutes later, when Sarah Robertson tomahawked into the bottom corner beyond Savita in the Indian goal. With that, the fear of a one-sided match began to take hold. But this India side are who and where they are because they simply do not accept fate determined by others.

However a brace of Gurjit Kaur penalty corners – one struck into the side-netting to Maddie Hinch’s left, the other to the same corner but a little lower – squared matters in the space of a minute. The second was the product of a fantastic run from Salima Tete, who led a counter attack from just inside the GB half, picking up the infringement for her team within a yard of the opposition goal.

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India were now thriving, charging at red shirts with renewed belief, opening them up with the odd bit of flair. But it was instinct that put them ahead when a couple of ricochets resulted in a tap-in for Vandana Katariya. Those involved with the Indian side on the stands cheered wildly as the GB contingent on the other side of the main grandstand fell silent.

The roles had reversed five minutes into the third quarter when Holly Pearne-Webb made it 3-3. The 30-year-old reacted to a kind break of the ball, maintaining her composure to hit into the far corner from a touch further out from the penalty spot.

That was the only goal of those 15 minutes, though not for a lack of trying. A fine save from Hinch, keeping out a penalty corner that looked set to rustle the left side of her goal for a third time. Savita answered with one of her own, sprawling low to keep out a chance as the fourth quarter loomed.

Three minutes in, Team GB got that unanswered fourth. After missing six previous penalty corners, Grace Balsdon finally scored, opening her body to nail a precise flick.

Unfortunately, India could not quite summon that second-quarter energy to launch another comeback. Beyond a tantalising cross four years out from goal that went unmet, Team GB are able to control how much of the ball India had and where they had it.

The final minute carried no jeopardy, as the ball found itself deep in India’s half, shielded in both corners before the final klaxon went.

Sadly this proved a bridge too far for India’s women. But fourth is reflective of their improvement since the bottom placing (12th) at Rio. And more importantly, this crop has shown that it is worth rallying against the caps placed on the potential of young Indian women, and the tempering of their expectations.

For Team GB, this is the end of what has been a challenging cycle. The pandemic was a struggle, but then perhaps it also gave this group of new blood another new to bed in and discover themselves as hockey players. Whatever the reason, they are now further along their journey than expected, with something to build upon ahead of a tilt towards Commonwealth gold in 2022 and regaining their crown at Paris 2024.

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