Sunday, June 23, 2024

FIH Hockey Pro League: Harmanpreet Singh shines as India displays deft control to beat Spain in opener | Hockey News

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This clever feint was the first hint that India were ‘on the ball’. The way she cutely dink on the stick was proof of that. The sight of goalkeepers flashing drugs, defenders stealing moves and players putting their bodies on the line to stop the ball from going into the net shows that India, a habitual offender of lackluster starts, mean business. It only confirmed that.

There was also a goal. Four of them included an outrageous no-look slap hit by Lalit Upadhyay. But it’s a little trick and flick. It was a sneaky run here and a sharp save there that delighted the team in the FIH Pro League season opener against Spain at Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium.

Spain may not strike as much fear into Indian players as other teams. However, they are not pushovers either. That makes the 4-1 victory even more impressive.

It was a near perfect performance. The goalkeepers – Krishan Pathak and his PR Sreejesh – were once again superb. The defense of the penalty corner was perfect. There were also goals from field goals and drag flicks.

Corner conversion rate (2 of 7 on Saturday) remains a thorny issue. The same goes for disciplinary issues. A yellow card at the end and a 10-minute suspension was harmless but could have been avoided.

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Bigger and more difficult challenges will follow. India will be tested on these points by the Netherlands on Sunday and Australia later in the week, but it will be interesting to see how India responds to a team that has struggled to win on the big stage.

However, the team, which had a spectacular outburst around this time last year, has bounced back admirably. They were revived at the same place where they were buried, the Kalinga Stadium. A shocking defeat to New Zealand in the World Cup brought the high-flying Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist crashing to the ground.

It was one of those listless, energyless performances that heralded doom. The same athletes are once again leading India’s hopes for the Paris Olympics.

Harmanpreet Singh, the captain and then a lonely player, found his field and scored from two almost unstoppable shots, one from a penalty corner in the seventh minute and one from a stroke in the 20th minute.

In fact, Harmanpreet always scores goals in Asian Champions Trophy and Asian Games. But scoring against a second division team in world hockey is a different story compared to a well-coached team like Spain. Will he be able to maintain the same conversion rate against Australia, who are currently in the same group as India in Paris?

Craig Fulton doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, so he has a plan B and C ready in case his go-to set-piece specialist fires a blank. Jugraj Singh delivered a powerful flick that sent the ball through the Spanish goalkeeper’s legs, leaving him unable to do anything. Jugraj had several other chances, but they all went over the posts.

Fulton didn’t use Sanjay and Araijeet Hundar much in drag flicks, but perhaps they’ll get a chance in the future in mini-tournaments. However, Hundal was still prolific in the final third, where India’s attackers always looked a threat.

Among them, it was vice-captain Hardik Singh who came out on top. It was Hardik who snaked the ball through the middle of the field and beat a defender with a 20-odd meter run that led to India’s first goal.

His command in the midfield was evident even when India were on the defensive (for a brief period in the third quarter when Fulton was determined not to allow Spain any chance of a comeback in the final quarter). They made sure to maintain their attacking threat through counters.

It was one such counter-attack that led to the fourth goal in the 50th minute, when Sukhjit Singh broke through from the left flank and passed the ball to Spain’s ‘D’ Upadhyay. Upadhyay had his back to the goal when the ball was played towards him. However, he showed the instincts of a true striker who knew exactly where the goal was, driving the ball into the ground first and beating the goalkeeper at the near post.

India could have scored a couple more goals, and even though they scored four, it wasn’t an all-out attacking show. It was more controlled and measured, erring on the side of caution as much as creative freedom. After all, that’s how Fulton wants this team to play.

Former captain Manpreet Singh played a defensive role and formed a dangerous partnership with Harmanpreet. Jugraj was there to clean up any mess left inside the ‘D’ by his teammates. Spain frequently sliced ​​down the left of the Indian defense, but the home side had enough bodies at the back to create space.

And while Spain did break through the defense on rare occasions, they were unable to beat Pathak and Sreejesh, who pulled off an incredible double save in the second quarter.

India’s only goal conceded was a penalty stroke following a defensive error. But on the night of India’s A match, the gaffe didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits in the stands or on the field.

Score: India 4 (Harmanpreet Singh 7 minutes, 20 minutes, Jugraj Singh 24 minutes, Lalit Upadhyay 50 minutes) won against Spain 1 (Marc Miralles 34 minutes)

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