New Delhi: "It was a wonderful day for Indian hockey! I am really proud." That was the first reaction of India's men's hockey coach, Michael Nobbs, when contacted by IBNLive.com on Thursday after India's monumental win over Belgium, which put them through to the semi-finals and within one win of a Champions Trophy medal after a gap of 30 years.
India's last medal at the Champions Trophy was in 1982 - a bronze, but should India win another one here, it will carry a lot more weight considering the ignominious last-place finish at the London Olympics just three months back. To turn it around in the space of 100-odd days will be remarkable.
Nobbs was, in particular, happy with the way India's defence held up, especially vice-captain and full-back VR Raghunath. "It was a wonderful performance, especially by the defence. Raghu was great. I think that ranks as one of his best performances for India," an elated India coach said.
But the narrow 1-0 win over Belgium didn't come without near heart attacks, with the Belgians pressing hard for the equaliser in the last 15 minutes of the game, especially when India had both Gurvinder Singh Chandi and skipper Sardar Singh sent off. Nobbs was understandably annoyed with that.
"The last 15 minutes were excruciatingly difficult for me, especially when Chandi decided to get himself sent off and Sardar got sent off because [goalkeeper] PT Rao started to attack the umpire, so Sardar got a team foul. How many other ways could we find to lose a game," Nobbs said, indicating that experienced players like Chandi need to be more careful and youngsters like PT Rao need to learn fast.
"Anyway a great day," Nobbs said with a sense of relief.
But facing Australia in the semis will be India's toughest assignment yet in the tournament. The young Indian team will have to play out of its skin and India's defence at the back will have to add a brick or two to it to stop the hosts from spoiling India's dream.
Pakistan take on Netherlands in the other semi-final, which means we may have and Indo-Pak final if both the Asian giants upset the favourites.