The bronze-medal winning Indian junior women's hockey team on Tuesday returned home amid fanfare and celebrations after scripting history at the seventh FIH Junior World Cup in Monchengladbach, Germany.
The team arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here this morning via Dubai by an Emirates Airlines flight.
The Indian girls outplayed England 3-2 in a penalty shootout in the bronze medal play-off match on Sunday to finish on the podium -- their best-ever showing in the marquee event.
Interestingly, the Indian girls had never made it to the quarterfinals of the World Cup before this. India captain Sushila Chanu said the entire team was delighted to have made the country proud.
"We're very happy with what we have achieved. There was pressure on us in the bronze medal match but we were confident of winning a medal," she said soon after landing here.
Rani Rampal, who was one of the star performers for India, scoring six goals, include one in regulation time in the bronze medal play-off tie as well as two later in the penalty shootout, said this victory has proved that "hockey is still alive in India".
"It is the biggest win of my career because for us it is equivalent to World Cup. We have never qualified for the Olympics so this win has huge significance for Indian women's hockey," said Rani, who was also adjudged the player of the tournament. (Also read: Rani Rampal, a cart-puller's daughter who turned dreams into a reality)
"It is a historic win. We are now confident of beating top teams of the world. This win has also reinstated confidence among hockey lovers, fans and players that hockey is still alive in India," added the striker.
As many as 12 players of India's junior World Cup team were part of the senior side that finished a poor seventh in the FIH Hockey World League Round 3 in Rotterdam in June.
"Undoubtedly, our experience of playing in the senior side has helped us immensely in the Junior World Cup," Rani said.
Contrary to the final result, the Indian eves did not start their World Cup campaign on a perfect note as they were thrashed 1-6 by Australia, who eventually finished sixth, in their opening encounter.
But the Sushila Chanu-led side showed great fighting spirit to forge a comeback into the tournament by beating New Zealand 2-0 in their second game before demolishing minnows Russia 10-1 in a must-win final group game.
India then defeated Spain 4-2 in the quarterfinals before losing 0-3 to eventual champions, The Netherlands in their semi-final duel.