In what is the biggest proof of the improvement of Indian hockey team under the leadership of coach Graham Reid, the Indian men’s hockey team earned a magnificent win over Netherlands in the first match of the FIH Men’s Pro League 2020.
The Indian team, having earned a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, followed the plan of their coach to play aggressively, and constantly put the opponents under pressure with a high pressing approach. The Netherlands defence seemed highly porous as the Indian forwards, led by the likes of Akashdeep Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay and Mandeep Singh put the Dutch backline under constant pressure.
The Netherlands side looked surprisingly lacklustre, both their defence and attack lacking the bite and intensity.
India started the scoring in the very first minute with Gurjant Singh putting his team forward. Then, Rupinder Pal Singh, the senior penalty corner expert in the team, doubled India’s lead with a goal in the 12th minute.
But the Dutch team started the fightback as Jip Jansen brought about their first goal in the 14th minute. Then, it was the dynamic Jeroen Hertzberger who brought his team back level in the 28th minute to ensure both teams were level going into the half-time break.
After the interval, a refreshed Indian forward line again started regularly breaking through and creating problems for the Dutch. In the fourth minute of the third quarter, Mandeep Singh, despite having three defenders around him, took an accurate shot from the top of the circle to score India’s third.
Soon, the pressure was relentless from the Men in Blue. Lalit Upadhyay deflected a brilliant pass from Harmanpreet Singh to make the scoreline 4-2. The very fact that Harmanpreet, a defender, was so far up the pitch was a testament to how aggressive the Indian team was on the day.
What also worked in favour of the home side was their brilliant use of the referral system. All their reviews proved successful and it was one of them that brought the team a penalty corner in the 46th minute. Rupinder Pal converted this one as well, and in the process scored his second goal of the match.
By this time, the result was a bygone conclusion as the Dutch team seemed demoralized and looked devoid of ideas to mount a serious attack. Mirco Pruisjer was hardly in action and even the likes of Hertzberger and Thierry Brinkman hardly featured. Even Billy Bakker’s prowess in the midfield was severely restricted by the solid marking of Indian players.
So, with the defence being hardly tested and the forward line and midfield thriving, the Indian men's hockey team have started 2020 with a magnificent victory. It vindicates all the hard work that coach Graham Reid has done in these months, getting his team to believe in themselves and go all out in attack, regardless of the opposition.