The Russian men had promised a “good battle” and they gave one against the Indian men's hockey team even though the result was on expected lines, the host winning 4-2 in the first leg of the Olympic Qualifiers here on Friday.
It was a more humbling scoreline than was expected with the first half mirroring the previous game between the two, during the Hockey Series Finals in June. While India changed gears in the second half back then, there was none of it on Friday. Russia even had more possession in the first half! It was as much because of a strangely slow and messy India as a Russia that had its plan clear and stuck to it.
Packing the defence with all 11 players and foraying out occasionally on counter-attacks, Russia did what most lower-ranked teams do against a superior opponent. India expectedly found it difficult to break through the defensive wall, the well-built Russians standing strong, but unexpectedly was unable to devise enough penalty corners as well. India got five PCs but could convert none.
The forwards were erratic and guilty of hurrying too much. The defence was often out of position. The urgency to score was missing. Russian goalkeeper Marat Gafarov brought off three good saves in the dying minutes and more through the game. The lack of pace might well have been part of coach Graham Reid’s plan to conserve energy but the lack of sharpness in passes was glaring.
The opening goal was off a penalty stroke for India but Andrey Kuraev’s reverse hit on the move to level scores was enough to stun both Krishan Pathak in the goal and the crowd. The game might have taken a lot more out of Russia than India and the second game may well turn out to be a contrasting one. But Russia clearly proved it wasn’t a pushover.
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