Hockey World Cup 2018: Erratic India begins with a bang

Statistics may be too drab a way to explain the match on the opening day of the 14th edition of the marquee tournament but there is no denying India’s dominance in the game.

Chinglensana Kangujam in action against South Africa in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday.   -  PTI

The long road to India’s World Cup dreams began with a not-so-perfect 5-0 win against South Africa on Wednesday with a scoreline that might indicate superiority but failed to justify the extent of it.

Statistics may be too drab a way to explain the match on the opening day of the 14th edition of the marquee tournament but there is no denying India’s dominance in the game. India knew it would have a 12th man on the field at all times and it was not disappointed. The 15,000 capacity crowd at the Kalinga Stadium roared in unison every time a blue jersey had the ball, and the South Africans admitted they took time to adjust to the atmosphere.

As it happened

The first chances came in the opening minutes of the game but went astray. That was pretty much the story of the day for India through the match. With more than 60 percent possession and 30 circle entries, there should have been more than five goals against its name. It’s a department both the coach and captain acknowledged needed sharpening.

Attack it did all through, sometimes even leaving huge gaps open in the defence, Harendra clearly relying on his boys’ fitness to back-pedal and be in position in time to thwart any counter-attacks. The team also varied the pace of its game, slowing down in the second quarter after getting the first two goals – a lovely deflection by Akashdeep Singh after being put through by Varun Kumar past South African goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse who was unsighted by Nilakanta in front, and a rebound by Mandeep Singh off a penalty corner that he himself earned.

RELATED | Belgium beats plucky Canada 2-1

The third quarter saw India slack off and Harendra admitted it became complacent, and SA pounced on the opening to get its only shot at goal in the game. That was saved by Sreejesh and India was woken up to regroup and relaunch itself. Simranjeet got two of the remaining three, within three minutes of each other, and Lalit Upadhyay got one in between.

India next takes on Belgium on Sunday, the letter managing a close 2-1 win against Canada in teh day’s other game. It may be not be an indicator of who would start favourite then but did make it clear that there were no favourites in the competition, for now.
 

Results: India 5 (Simranjeet Singh 2, Mandeep Singh, lalit Upadhyay, Akashdeep Singh) bt Sout Africa 0; Belgium 2 (Felix Denayer, Thomas Briels) bt Canada 1 (Mark Pearson).