Underdogs India look to end Tokyo fairy-tale with podium finish

Can the women's hockey team create history on Friday? (3:48)

Former India captain Ashish Ballal and Sharda Ugra on what a medal would mean for the sport (3:48)

It's important to look at the chronology of events over the past four years to understand the magnitude of what the Indian women's team has done at these Tokyo Olympics -- potentially, 60 minutes and Great Britain (GBR) is all that stand between Rani Rampal's team and a first ever podium finish at the Games.

In 2017, India were named among the teams that would play in the international hockey federation's newest competition, the Pro League, something that would have given both the men and women a chance to compete at home and away against the top teams each year. India pulled out, citing apprehensions about how it would affect the women's team's qualification chances for the Olympics. By the end of the year, they would confirm their progression to being the best team in Asia

The year that followed saw them make the last four at the Commonwealth Games, and their first Asian Games final in 20 years. Along the way, they dropped in at London for the World Cup, drew with hosts England, knocked out higher-ranked U.S. and only lost in the knockouts via shootout to eventual runners-up Ireland. For good measure, they beat U.S. the following year to earn their place in Tokyo.

And now here they are, against the reigning champions, with a chance to earn a podium finish few might have held a hope out for at the start of these Games.

Key storylines

Before their 2-1 defeat to Argentina in the semifinal, India's last defeat had also come against GBR, their third successive loss to start their campaign. The Indian team since has become a fine defensive unit, though they did ship in three goals against South Africa. Even against Argentina, some of the assurance in playing out from the back when under pressure was a far cry from what was seen in the first three matches.

GBR finished their group stages with a win over Ireland, their third, but since have advanced on a shootout against Spain, and then beaten 5-1 by the Netherlands. The seven goals conceded in the knockouts are two more than what they shipped in through five group games. In many ways, they have to lift themselves up for this one.

Where the match will be won

India will enjoy a little respite in that GBR aren't as dependent on short corners as Australia or Argentina. They are masters at deflections off set-pieces, and have a striker of the quality of Hannah Martin to feed inside the circle. Martin had virtually killed off the contest in a little over a quarter the last time these teams met, and India will have to keep her away from scoring positions and opportunities.

India's fluency in passing has improved significantly as the matches have worn on. What has troubled them is how well they finish games as a defensive unit. Nine of their 16 goals conceded have come in the second half. In a medal match, they simply have to aim for a shutout to stay ahead or in the game.

Players to watch out for

So good has her drag flick form been lately, that the group stage yips that Gurjit Kaur had appear a thing of the past. She scored off the only significant opportunity against Australia, and converted her first penalty corner (PC) against Argentina. In the semifinal, she was a bit error-prone when defending, and will want to iron that out to be able to contribute in a bigger way to the Indian performance.

For GBR, attacking midfielder Lily Owsley has had a quiet tournament, with just one goal in the win against India to show for her efforts, a far cry from her four goals at Rio, where she had also set the ball rolling in a huge upset of the Dutch in the final. Her combination with Martin could hold the key to how confident they are in attack.

Numbers game

• GBR have had the better of both previous matches against India at the Olympics. They beat them 3-0 in 2016, and 4-1 in Tokyo, both at the group stages.

• While India are looking for their maiden medal in women's hockey at the Olympics, a GBR win will ensure a third straight podium finish, and fourth overall. They have bronze medals in 1992 and 2012 to go with the Rio gold.

• A win will make India the 13th nation to have medalled at the Olympics in women's hockey. They will also become just the third Asian nation, after South Korea (two silvers) and China (silver in 2008).