Indian hockey team had a successful competitive outing in over a year, beating Olympic champions Argentina in both the matches of their FIH Pro League tie in Buenos Aires over the weekend.
The wins, however, came in contrasting fashion. It was facilitated by a last-minute surge in the opening match, and a clinical clean sheet in the second. The unbeaten outing against the strong Argentines will be a boost in confidence for the Indian side, though, it is too early in the season to talk about actual form of Argentina, who are medal contenders at the Tokyo Games in July-August.
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With the two victories, India, with 15 points from eight games, climbed to fourth place in the FIH Hockey Pro League standings.
In the first match, played on Saturday (post-midnight IST on Sunday), drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh scored two goals, including the equaliser with just six seconds left in the match. The match ended 2-2 and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh took centre stage in the shoot-off, thwarting three Argentine efforts to help India claim a bonus point. This was the third straight match where Sreejesh ensured India’s win in the shoot-outs, with the previous two coming against the Netherlands and Australia earlier in 2020, before pandemic locked everything up.
The Indians, bolstered by the victory, played with much more control and composure in the second match on Sunday to register a 3-0 win. After seeing off Argentine pressure in the opening 10 minutes, where goalkeeper Krishan Pathak made a couple of crucial saves, Harmanpreet once again opened the scoring in the 13th minute. Lalit Upadhyay doubled the lead in the 25th and Mandeep Singh sealed a comfortable victory two minutes from time.
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“What I really liked from Saturday’s game was the ability to not give up, and stage a comeback. It is a good confidence booster to know that if you are stuck in that position, you have the patience and skill to be able to do that,” chief coach Graham Reid was quoted in media reports.
India will play two more practice matches against Argentina on Tuesday and Wednesday. In May, they are scheduled to play two Pro League matches each against Germany, Spain and Great Britain.
Of course, the schedule comes with a disclaimer. India’s home tie against New Zealand in Bhubaneswar (in May) has been postponed by the FIH owing to the spike in Covid-19 cases in the country. It could be similar fate for the other matches, and such a situation could hamper the build-up of the side for their Olympic campaign.
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