Tokyo Olympics 2020 hockey: India shine as veteran Birendra Lakra earns his 200th cap

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Kolkata: It was a right day for Birendra Lakra, veteran defender of Indian men’s hockey team, to earn his 200th international cap on Tuesday as his team stayed in the hunt for a spot in the quarter finals with a dominant 3-0 win over Spain at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Picking themselves up from a shattering 7-1 loss against Australia on Sunday, the Blue Shirts bounced back in style as they outclassed Spain 3-0 in their third match to pick up their second win in three matches. Rupinder Pal Singh hit a double and Simranjeet Singh scored for India while goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh ensured a clean sheet to bring their campaign back on track.

“It gives me immense joy and satisfaction to be getting a chance to play my 200th international match for India in an event like the Olympics. I couldn’t have achieved this feat without my teammates, family and Hockey India’s support. I would like to thank each and everyone involved in this wonderful journey and I want to continue to give my best to the team and make proud fans back home by finishing at the podium,” said Lakra ahead of the match against Spain.

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Currently the joint vice-captain along with drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh in Tokyo, Lakra made his debut for the senior national team in the 2010 South Asian Games and has been part of India’s various memorable moments such as the 2014 Asian Games glory, bronze medal in the World League Final 2015 in Raipur and a silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. He was also part of the Indian team that won the FIH Men’s Series Finals in Bhubaneswar in 2019.

The 31-year-old, who has been one of the vital cogs in the Indian defence, also featured in 2012 Olympic Games as well as the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup in 2014 and 2018, respectively. Lakra, however, missed out on the Rio Olympics 2016 due to a knee injury but made a strong comeback in less than eight months during the Indian team’s 2016 Asian Champions Trophy campaign where they beat Pakistan in the final.

India's Rupinder Pal Singh (second left) being congratulated after scoring one of his two goals against Spain. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Meanwhile, Indian Chief Coach Graham Reid thanked his team for a ‘‘better result’’ on Tuesday but felt there are still areas of concern. ‘‘The fact that we gave too many corners, that’s always a concern when that happens. But the team did really well in terms of defending the penalty corners. The first quarter was played very well, we could move the ball really well and it was exactly what we planned to do.

‘‘I think 2-0 is the worse score in hockey because after that, we were relaxed and we struggled a bit in the second and third quarter to get back in the game. We managed to do that in the fourth quarter and tried to play simple hockey and that’s what we ended up doing,’’ said the Australian.

India will take on defending Olympic Champions Argentina next in their fourth Pool A match on Thursday (July 29) at 0600hrs IST (4.30 am UAE),

The Indian women’s hockey team, meanwhile, slumped to their second defeat when they wasted chances galore, including a penalty stroke, to go down 2-0 in their Group A match on Monday. They had earlier lost 5-1 to Netherlands.

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