Shattered by the heartbreaking loss that saw them miss out on a bronze medal, members of the Indian women's hockey team broke down during a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who lauded the side for its inspirational display at the Tokyo Olympics.
Modi called the team after its agonizing 3-4 loss to Great Britain in the bronze medal play-off on Friday and consoled the distraught players, who were seen sobbing.
''All of you have played really well. You left everything in the past five years, sweating it out for the sport. Your hard work and sweat didn't get a medal but it has become the inspiration for crores of girls in the country. I congratulate the coach and all of you,'' said Modi as the team gathered around the phone.
After a disappointing start to the campaign that saw them lose the first three games, the Indian women's team put up a splendid display to enter its maiden Olympic semifinal.
The Rani Rampal-led side defeated the mighty Australians in the quarterfinals but couldn't get past Argentina in the semifinals and Great Britain in the play-off game, signing off with a fourth-place finish. The players couldn't fight back tears as Modi praised their efforts.
Modi praised Vandana Katariya and Salima Tete for their performances. Katariya, whose family was subjected to allegedly casteist slurs after the semifinal match, scored four goals in the entire competition. ''Vandana and everyone played well. And everyone thought Salima was brilliant.'' After a brief silence, Modi urged the players to stop crying.
''Please everyone, stop crying the entire country is taking pride in you. After so many years hockey, India's identity, has been reborn. This is all because of your efforts,'' Modi said.
The 70-year-old also enquired about Navneet Kaur, who was seen with bandages on her face to stop the bleeding from an injury during the match.
Skipper Rani informed him that the forward had to get four stitches while thanking the PM for his encouragement. Modi also applauded head coach Sjoerd Marijne for his efforts.
''You have tried your level best, I am seeing how you have encouraged them. I am thankful to you, I wish you all the best for the future,'' Modi said.
Marijne responded, ''Thank you for your encouragement sir. The girls are a bit emotional right now, but I have told them to take pride in what they have achieved.''