Indian men’s athletes started their Olympic year with a 4-1 win over Spain in the opening match of the FIH Pro League on Saturday. This victory was impressive not only for the result but also for the performance.
The Indians are coming off a mixed tour of South Africa, where they maintained a high tempo despite easy wins over the lowly hosts and France, despite a heavy loss to India’s next opponents, the Netherlands, here on Sunday. It was fun to watch a fast-paced, open game that wasn’t limited to a battle of attrition in the midfield and gave both teams plenty of chances.
However, the core of the Indian team’s superiority was in the midfield, with Hardik Singh controlling the midfield brilliantly and launching attacks. The vice-captain was instrumental in getting India’s first PC, which captain Harmanpreet Singh converted by slamming it hard into the boards.
In front of their usual packed stands, the Indians showed both speed and control, running hard when they had the ball but taking time to get into position inside the circle.
There was only one opening goal, but Lalit Upadhyay converted a brilliant reverse volley from a pass from Sukhjith, who was standing alone in the circle, despite assuming the Spaniard had committed a foul. However, Harmanpreet and Jugraj Singh ensured that they got 7 PCs and 1 stroke to ensure they never lost a goal. It was wasted and they led 3-0 at halftime.
However, the players who stood out were veterans Manpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh. Ostensibly a midfielder, Manpreet was all over the field, running all over the grass from attack to defence, changing sides when necessary and constantly putting pressure on his opponents.
Manpreet continued to disrupt the attack with his speed and skill. Spain struggled to regain control in the second half with well-timed shots on goal, but they were thwarted numerous times by Sreejesh, including two successive saves.
Earlier, the Dutch maintained their top spot on the leaderboard with a 5-1 win over the on-going Ireland.
result: Netherlands 5 (Gyp Janssen 35, 52, Chep Hoodemakers 12, Jorit Kroon 21, Stein van Heijningen 53) bt Ireland 1 (Lee Cole 36); India 4 (Harmanpreet Singh 7, 20 , Jugraj Singh 24, Lalit Upadhyay 50), Spain 1 (Marc Miralles 34).