Hockey: India beats Russia 7-1 to win Tokyo 2020 ticket

Russia scored in the first minute through Alexey Sobolevskiy but from there on India coasted through to a 7-1 win in the hockey Olympic qualifiers.

Indian men's team celebrate a goal against Russia.   -  BISWARANJAN ROUT

The Indian team has a tendency to concede goals very early or very late in a game but even by its own standards, a 22nd-second opener by Russia would be a shocker. The final result though was 7-1 in the second leg of the Olympic Qualifiers as the host booked its ticket to Tokyo with a 11-3 aggregate.

There was never a doubt of Indian victory in the men’s competition but it was a patchy performance from the World No. 5 against the World No. 22, specially in the first half. With one goal in the bag and the aggregate lead cut to just one, Russia knew it had nothing to lose. It ran hard, opened up space and made full use of the openings against an erratic India. The host was also slow to pick up and the midfield was non-existent.

It took a solo effort from Lalit Upadhyay in the 17th minute into the match to pull India level. Akashdeep Singh got two more in the second quarter but the missed chances were much more. The finishing, so stressed upon, was messy and wayward. Ramandeep, Mandeep, Simranjeet and Sunil found ways to hit wide or over from all angles. Harmanpreet Singh fluffed two PCs.

The second half was better and India finally played the way it was expected of. The cohesion was back and its attack was sharp. The movements were in rhythm and the gap in quality was visible. Russia still fought hard but there was no fightback left. And the more India went upward, the more the Russians went defensive, ceding goals, space and the game to the host.

It got the Indian men on the flight to Tokyo but coach Graham Reid and his team would do well to get back to the drawing board ahead of the Olympics, ironing out the several chinks that Russia exposed over the two games.

Result: India 7 (Lalit Upadhyay 17', Akashdeep Singh 23' 29', Nilakanta Sharma 47', Rupinder Pal Singh 48' 59', Amit Rohidas 60') bt. Russia 1 (Alexey Sobolevskiy 1')