Indian women’s hockey team player Lalremsiami (left) celebrates with Monika after a goal against Japan in the Olympic Test event final in Tokyo on August 21.
The Indian men’s and women’s hockey teams won the Olympic Test event in Tokyo. The men beat New Zealand 5-0 to avenge the 2-1 loss in round-robin stage of the tournament while the women got the better of Japan 2-1 in the final on August 21.
India sent a previously untested men’s team for the event with Harmanpreet Singh given charge of leading the side, after skipper Manpreet Singh was rested. SV Sunil, returning from a long injury layoff, was also part of the squad which travelled to Tokyo. India beat the two Asian teams, Malaysia and Japan, comprehensively, scoring six goals each game. Despite the one loss in the round-robin stage, India were through to the final where they faced New Zealand.
In an action packed first quarter, India drew first blood with a succession of penalty corners. Harmanpreet found the target from the second. Shamsher Singh doubled it in the 18th minute via another penalty corner, as New Zealand’s attacking intensity plummeted. The Black Sticks made a mere two circle entries in the second quarter as India upped the ante and scored three more goals via Nilkanta Sharma (22’), Gursahibjit Singh (26’) and Mandeep Singh (27’).
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With India holding a five goal lead, and the game effectively dusted by halftime, the second half was all about quality control, recycling possession and controlling the pace of the game, which India did admirably.
The victory gave Graham Reid his first success as coach of the Indian side, barely a few months into the job. But the Australian is probably aware that this was the meekest of hurdles leading up to the Olympics. India play the Olympic qualifiers later this year.
Speaking after the final, Harmanpreet Singh said the side analysed the mistakes made in the previous encounter against New Zealand and were eager to correct them. “I think the final was always going to be tough, we lost to New Zealand earlier,” he said, “But we had been having practice sessions after that and worked on our mistakes to win today.”
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Far more impressively, the Indian women beat the hosts in the final. Japan had previously beaten them to gold at the Asian Games, denying the women team direct qualification. Their qualification hopes now rest on beating higher-ranked teams in the next round of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers.
In Tokyo, under the reappointed coach Sjoerd Marijne, they seemed to have found a second wind, beating Japan twice to win the event. Between those two wins were two goalless draws, one against an Australian side ranked second in the world, and the second against China.
In the final, Navjot Kaur (11’) and Lalremsiami’s goals (33’) were the difference between the two sides.
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