Indian women's hockey team captain Savita Punia has revealed the side was shattered following their loss in the Commonwealth Games semifinal to Australia, but encouraging words from chief coach Janneke Schopman motivated them to give off their best in the bronze-medal match.
The women's team returned home with a historic Commonwealth Games bronze medal, capping the roller-coaster ride for the side which saw them bounce back from a heart-breaking ninth-place finish at the FIH Women's World Cup in Netherlands and Spain in July to return home with a bronze from Birmingham.
India started their Commonwealth Games campaign with back-to-back wins against Ghana (5-0) and Wales (3-1) respectively but lost 1-3 to England in their third match. They registered a 3-2 win against Canada in their fourth match to finish second in Pool A.
The team put up a solid show against Australia in the semifinal, but suffered a 1-1 (0-3 SO) loss. However, they responded to the setback in style and registered a thrilling 1-1 (2-1 SO) win against New Zealand to clinch the historic bronze.
Speaking about the historic achievement, the ace veteran goalkeeper said, "We are happy and proud of what we've achieved, and most importantly how we've achieved it. The defeat against Australia in the semifinal was hard to accept, our morale was shattered.
But it was our coach Janneke Schopman who motivated us and made us realise that we still have an opportunity to return home with a medal. So, all credit for the medal goes to her. I am proud of how we as a team showed great character and never gave up till the last minute.
"It's not just a medal for us, it's an inspiration. The younger generation will also get inspired by this. We're grateful for all the support and love our fans have given to us throughout our campaign in the World Cup as well as the Commonwealth Games," she added.
Reflecting on the long tour, Savita said, "It was a pretty long tour, there were ups and downs but it taught us a lot of things. We started the tour on a strong note by finishing third in our debut FIH Hockey Pro League 2021/22 campaign and then went through a rough patch during the World Cup.
Finishing ninth was disappointing, but it was equally important to move ahead and take positive learnings from the campaign to focus on the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games."We then had a short preparatory camp in Nottingham, where we introspected and worked on our mistakes.
We came in with a fresh mind and took it one day at a time in Birmingham. I think the team unity also helped us to bounce back. The bond we share helped us in maintaining a positive atmosphere in the team, it helped us focus on the present moment and overcome the challenges thrown at us," added the goalkeeper.
Savita made three saves in the shootout against New Zealand to help India end their 16-year wait for a medal at the Commonwealth Games.Savita said the team's goal is to win gold at the Asian Games in Hangzhou next year to ensure direct qualification for the Paris Olympics 2024.
"We will spend some time at home with our families and come back to the camp with fresh minds. Our goal remains the same, which is to win the gold medal at the Asian Games for the direct qualification for the Paris Olympics 2024.
We take the one-year postponement as an opportunity to train for the Asian Games. We have significant time to prepare and approach step-by-step," she added.