Hyderabad: It was a close call but India managed to register a 3-2 win over New Zealand in their Group A men’s hockey match. From a comfortable 3-1 lead they conceded a goal and then went through the familiar last-minute tension. Luckily we could avoid that last-second penalty corner shot to collect crucial three points. It is always good to have a winning start in a big event like the Olympics.
For me goalkeeper Sreejesh was the man of the match. He was brave, confident, agile, cool and marshalled the defence superbly. He did not panic and stood like a rock. He covered the angles very well. We should thank Sreejesh for India’s win.
For that matter, defenders Amit Rohidas and Birender Lakra were also sturdy but they needed to be a little more alert at the crucial stages of the game. India invited trouble because of some loose balls, particularly in the fourth quarter. Somehow in this phase, they allowed New Zealand to come back strongly and they had the possession of the ball better than the Indians. The Indians fumbled with stopping and tapping. That allowed New Zealand to raid the Indian citadel with quick runs. They spelt danger for India whenever their attackers were in the D area. But somehow India managed to come out of the jail.
India’ midfield was little on the slower side, either in defence or while feeding the forward line. Skipper Manpreet Singh was a little wayward. Vivek played well in patches. The midfielders should step up their game. They need to be more organized and enterprising. But since it is the first game and they are playing after the Covid-19 pandemic, they need to be given some concession. They started brightly but somehow lost their way in the third quarter.
The forward line of Mandeep Singh and Lalit Upadhayay had a few incisive runs but failed to convert any field goals. Modern hockey is all about penalty corners. It was a pleasing sight to see Rupinder Singh (10th minute) and Harmanpreet Singh (26th and 32nd minutes) get the goals although the former got the first goal through penalty stroke.
But Harmanpreet was bang on target with his first two penalty corners. He tricked the New Zealand defence with well-directed shots. I liked the penalty corner of New Zealand as Kane Russell beat the Indian defence with a nice shot. Stephen Jenness’ goal in the 43rd minute saw New Zealand gain the ascendancy before their challenge was nipped in the bud.
Overall, it is the result that matters and coach Graham Reid might be satisfied with the start. India take on the dangerous Australia, who have always been a stumbling block. It will be interesting to see what tactics will be used by Reid, an Aussie himself, against his countrymen. I expect a close tussle on Sunday morning.
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