India got off the blocks in style beating New Zealand 4-3 in a thrilling FIH Pro League opener on Friday at the Kalinga Stadium.
The visitor showed more attacking intent in the early exchanges. India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was called into action early in the match as he saved a deflected long-range attempt.
It was India, however, who got the first penalty corner of the match but Shamsher Singh wasted the chance.
Mandeep Mor, 23, opened the scoring in the 13th minute as Nilakanta Sharma, while surrounded by three New Zealand players, threaded a pinpoint pass to the defender on the right. A late reaction from the Black Sticks goalkeeper Dominic Dixon saw the ball slip past his left leg and into the far post.
New Zealand responded eight minutes later when Sam Lane’s shot off Simon Child’s injection during a penalty corner found Surender Kumar’s foot in front of goal. Lane put away the resulting penalty stroke.
Soon after, New Zealand got another penalty corner but this time Krishan Bahadur Pathak who came in for Sreejesh blocked the ball but it fell to Child whose attempt went wide.
Just before half time, India came close to taking the lead but Sukhjeet Singh’s shot from a narrow angle off an Abhishek assist hit straight to Dixon who fumbled initially before averting the danger.
Till the half time when the score was 1-1, India had five shots at opposition goal as against two of New Zealand and nine circle penetrations as against seven of the visiting team. The ball possession was almost equal. The Black Sticks had two penalty corners as against one of India till half time.
New Zealand took an early lead in the second half as Sean Findlay’s cross found Child, who relayed it to Jake Smith, who ultimately slid in to work it past Sreejesh. A minute later, NZ scored a third through Lane when the shot stopper lost his balance, in an attempt to block.
Harmanpreet Singh breathed life into the Indian dugout, converting a penalty stroke in the 41st minute despite the New Zealand custodian George Enersen diving the right way.
India were down to 10 men towards the end of third quarter after Sumit was shown the yellow card (10 minutes out of play). New Zealand pressed hard and earned a couple of penalty corners but India survived, though trailing by one goal.
Veteran Mandeep Singh provided the telling blows in the end for India. He combined with Mor to find the back of the net from the tightest of angles on the left to equalise before firing into the bottom corner in the 56th minute to help the host bag all three points.
Mohammed Raheel made his India debut in the match. India plays Spain on Sunday.
Score: India 4 (Mandeep Mor 13’, Harmanpreet Singh 41’, Mandeep Singh 51’ 56’) - 3 New Zealand (Sam Lane 22’ 35’, Jake Smith 34’)
(With inputs from PTI)