A far from impressive India had to toil hard to register a 3-1 win over a lowly Wales in their opening Pool A match in the men’s hockey competition of the 20th Commonwealth Games at the National Hockey Centre, in Glasgow on Friday.
Ranked ninth in the world, India had to dig deep to overcome a resolute Wales defence and pocket their first points in the Glasgow Games.
India scored two goals through penalty corner conversions by V R Raghunath (20th minute) and Rupinder Pal Singh (42nd) before comeback man Girvinder Singh Chandi scored from a field effort in the 47th minute.
Wales’ lone goal was netted by Andrew Cornick in the 23rd minute from field play.
India started the match as overwhelming favourites against the 31st-ranked Wales, but the Sardar Singh-led side looked completely off colour in the opening half with their fowards failing to make any inroads.
The Welshmen, on the other hand, started cautiously and defended in numbers. After sitting back initially, Wales put the fragile Indian defence under constant threat with counter attacks in the final 15 minutes of the first half.
As expected, India enjoyed the opening share of exchanges and got their first scoring chance in the fifth minute but Rupinder’s high flick from a penalty corner hit the cross bar.
Minutes later Akashdeep Singh’s try from close range was kept away by Wales goalkeeper David Kettle.
After surviving a penalty corner scare, India finally surged ahead in the 20th minute when Raghunath scored from their second set piece with a powerful flick.
But three minutes later, Wales stunned the Indians to drew level through a beautiful field goal by Cornick. The Wales forward scored with a deft touch from a tight angle after receiving Dan Kyriakides’ cross from the right flank.
Both India and Wales earned a penalty corner each in the remaining time of the first half but failed to utilise the opportunities to go into the breather locked at 1-1.
Shell shocked by Wales performance in the first 35 minutes, the Indians came out with more purpose after the change of ends and it was evidently visible in their game. The Indians looked far more threatening as the midfield and forward line combined well to create chances.
India went for the offensive in the second half and in the process earned two more penalty corners within a span of six minutes, the second of which was converted by Rupinder to give his side a 2-1 lead.
Five minutes later, Chandi found himself at the right place at the right time to push home the ball past Wales custodian Ketlle after a fine one-two between S V Sunil and Nikkin Thimmaiah to extend India’s lead.
India kept up their pressure on the Wales defence and created numerous scoring chances only to be denied by an agile Ketlle.
Ketlle had a fantastic outing in front of the Wales goal as in the final 10 minutes of the game he made a series of saves to save his side from humiliation.
Despite the loss, Wales can take a lot of heart from their gritty performance against India, who have eight Olympic gold medals to their credit.
India will next play hosts Scotland on Saturday, while Wales will be up against world champions and reigning Commonwealth Games champions Australia.
Commenting on India’s ordinary performance against minnows Wales on Friday, chief coach Terry Walsh said: “They went for a hard physical approach on the game but we persisted. We did a couple changes in the second half and created more chances in order to score some more goals.”
Walsh reiterated that a place in the semifinals was his primary target in the ongoing Glasgow Games.
“We want to grow and get better in each game. We want to reach the semi-finals to be able to discuss about the title,” the Australian said.
Asked about India’s next Pool A game against Scotland tomorrow, Walsh said: “We know it’s going to be hard. In theory this game against Wales should have been easier, but when you look at it, it really wasn’t.”