He trapped, turned and flicked in a perfect reverse hit into the net past a hapless Ivan Ozherelev to round up the tally. India’s 10th goal of the game by Akashdeep Singh was a perfect display of what the Indian men’s hockey team is capable of, when on song.
It took time to get into that rhythm, though, in its opening game of the FIH Hockey Series Finals against Russia at the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar on Thursday. The 10-0 scoreline though was below par for the complete dominance the team displayed and the number of chances it created. To be fair, the Indians hardly exerted themselves through the game. It was still a walk in the park.
The last time the two teams faced off was 11 years ago, at the Olympic qualifying tournament for the 2008 Games, when India won 8-0. But that was also the beginning of the darkest period for Indian hockey with the team failing to travel to Beijing for the first time ever in its decorated Olympic history.
World and Indian hockey is no longer the same but the first half held glimpses of one of Indian hockey’s longest running malaise – too much keenness on showing off skills. The team went into half time with a 3-0 lead but had missed half a dozen chances, both open and through penalty corners, in those 30 minutes, getting the passes and the shots at goal too late or too wayward.
Captain Manpreet Singh had said the team had worked on its finishing but the rough edges were evident. Russia is no tricky customer but it did manage to keep a semblance of discipline in its defence despite India dominating every aspect of the game including possession.
Coach Graham Reid was visibly dissatisfied at half time walking into the dressing room. The team that walked out in the 3rd quarter was different. There was more structure, less holding on and more purpose. Practice was over and it was time to get down to business. And the team began playing like World No. 5.
Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma and Manpreet kept feeding high, Simranjit and Mandeep kept getting into positions and Gursahibjit continued to impress even as Russia was reduced to a spectator, chasing the ball and the Indians across the field, without success. It did earn a penalty corner in the 42nd minute but that was an aberration.
In another Pool A match, Poland had an easy 4-0 victory against minnows Uzbekistan. The tournament opener in the morning, though, produced the first upset of the competition with USA winning 2-0 against a higher ranked and more experienced South Africa in Pool B.
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