Bhubaneswar, Feb 10 (IANS) Skipper Harmanpreet Singh starred with a brace as the Indian men’s hockey team started its FIH Hockey Pro League 2023/24 season with a dominant 4-1 over Spain in their opening match held on Saturday at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium, Bhubaneswar.
While Harmanpreet Singh struck in the 7th and 28th minutes, Jugraj Singh (24′) and Lalit Upadhyay (50′) scored a goal each to help India seal a 4-1 win in their opening match of the season. Spanish captain Marc Miralles (34′) was the lone goalscorer for the visitors.
Both teams were cautious in their approach, as they focused on maintaining their structure, with accurate passes in the midfield. It was India who came up with the first real attack as Hardik Singh made a stunning run from the right flank to draw the first penalty corner, which was duly converted by Harmanpreet with a fiery low drag-flick, making it 1-0 in the 7th minute.
Although Spain had better ball possession, India were disciplined in the defence. They did not allow the visitors to create spaces and ended the opening quarter with a narrow 1-0 lead. In their bid to score an equaliser, Spain started the second quarter brightly. They created a couple of goalscoring opportunities and also had a penalty corner, but Indian goalie PR Sreejesh stood tall to deny visitors from equalising.
India immediately responded as they had as many as three back-to-back penalty corners, with the third one being rewarded into a penalty stroke. Harmanpreet once again stepped up and slotted the ball home with ease, making it 2-0 for the hosts in the 20th minute. India rode on the momentum as they extended their lead through Jugraj’s low drag-flick that went through Spanish goalie Luis Calzado’s legs, making it 3-0 in the 24th minute.
With less than two minutes to go for the first half, Spain earned their second penalty corner of the match but missed out on converting it. They also made forays inside India’s circle in the dying seconds, but the home side survived the danger, ending the first half with a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Spain upped their ante and started the third quarter aggressively. They piled pressure on the Indian defence, and a stick tackle by Gurjant Singh gave away a penalty stroke to the visitors in the 34th minute. Miralles made no mistake in pulling a goal back for Spain as he slotted the ball into the top right corner of the goal.
The latter phase of the third quarter saw some end-to-end action, with both teams looking for spaces inside each other’s halves. India had their seventh penalty corner, but Jugraj’s drag-flick was off target. Spain came out all guns blazing in the final quarter. They were relentless in their pursuit and made dangerous runs inside, but the Indian defence led by Sreejesh kept the visitors away from the goal.
India went on to add the fourth goal on the counter-attack. Sukhjeet orchestrated a fine run on the left, playing the ball to his teammate from the top of the circle. However, the deflection from Spanish defenders fell to Lalit, who was at the right place, at the right time, and hammered the ball into the nets through a reverse flick in the 50th minute. Spain, on the other hand, had a glorious opportunity to pull a goal back in the 56th minute but missed out on converting yet another penalty corner.
With less than two minutes to go for the final hooter, India were down to 10 men as Gurjant Singh was given the yellow card. Spain could make much of it as India ran down the clock to seal a comfortable 4-1 win.
India will take on the defending champions the Netherlands in their second match on Sunday.