January 18, 2020 10:53:24 pm
The Indian men’s hockey team made a dream debut at the FIH Pro League, beating world number three Netherlands 5-2 in the opening match of the two-game encounter in Bhubaneswar on Saturday.
Rupinder Pal Singh (12th, 46th minutes) converted two penalty corners, while Gurjant Singh (1st), Mandeep Singh (34th) and Lalit Upadhyay (36th) scored three fine field goals for India. Jip Janssen (14th) struck from a set-piece, while Jeroen Hertzberger (28th) scored from a field effort for the Dutch side.
After having missed the first edition of the Pro League, the Olympics-bound India kick-started their preparations for the quadrennial showpiece in earnest.
With all the top teams of the world in the fray, the home-and-away Pro League is looked upon as an ideal preparation for world number five India ahead of the Summer Games later this year.
India will square off against the Netherlands in their second game on Sunday.
The Indians made a perfect start and took the lead inside 30 seconds through Gurjant, who fired past Dutch goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak after an exchange with fellow striker Mandeep Singh.
India doubled their lead in the 12th minute when Rupinder converted a penalty corner. Two minutes later, the Netherlands pulled one back through Janssen’s brilliant penalty corner conversion, which rattled the bottom left corner of the Indian goal.
In the 20th minute, the Netherlands secured three consecutive penalty corners but the Indian defence stood tall to keep the Europeans off the score-sheet.
Janssen was twice denied by brilliant blocks from the onrushing Amit Rohidas, with India goalkeeper P R Sreejesh blocking the third effort, a drag-flick from Mink van der Weerden.
A diving Sreejesh came up with another brilliant save to deny Bjorn Kellerman’s. But two minutes from the end of second quarter, the Netherlands drew level through Hertzberger’s field strike, as both the teams went into half time locked at 2-2.
The break seemed to rejuvenated the Indians as four minutes into the third quarter, Mandeep scored after receiving a pass from captain Mandeep Singh to restore their lead.
A minute later, India secured another penalty corner but Rupinder’s drag-flick sailed wide of the right post. Lalit extended the home team’s lead, tapping into an unguarded net after a brilliant play down the left by Harmanpreet Singh.
The Indians were bang on target with their video referrals as a fourth decision went their way for a penalty corner. But the Dutch defence held firm to deny the hosts a fifth goal.
The Indian defenders, too, were on their toes as they blocked three penalty corners by their rivals. A minute into the fourth and final quarter, India made it 5-2 when Rupinder netted his second of the game from another penalty corner.
In the 53rd minute, India earned another penalty corner through their sixth successful video referral, but Amit Rohidas failed to capitalise. Two minutes from the final hooter, the Dutch earned a penalty corner, but Mink van der Weerden’s flick was saved by an alert Sreejesh.
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