India emerged victorious in their opening group game against the Kiwis at Olympics 2021. The Manpreet Singh-led team tested the nerves of all the Indian hockey fans in the dying minutes of the match. But extraordinary efforts from the Wall of India, PR Sreejesh, helped India pull off a 3-2 win against the Kiwis. Coach Reid was extremely happy with India's thrilling win.
In his post-match interaction with the media, he said:
“Winning three points in a competition like the Olympic Games is really important. I think we had a good second and third quarter but in the first and fourth we struggled a little bit. When we watch the video later today, we will be able to find out what we need to get better at and surely there are going to be things we learn from today too. But at the end of the day, we haven't played for 3-4 months in an international competition, that's the reality."
It was extremely hot in Tokyo, but this didn't seem to bother the Indians. Coach Reid also commented on a few things India had to work on to perform better in the next game. He further added:
"As far as the weather was concerned, the players handled it really well. We probably could have put away the first few opportunities we created. It may have made the game a little less close. I think that is what we need to focus on. We did well in converting the PCs, but we need to look at reducing the numbers (of PCs) we were giving away."
India next play Australia in the group stage. Coach Reid seemed very confident about the next game against the Kookaburras. While talking about their next game against the Australians, Coach Reid said:
"About playing Australia tomorrow, they are always a tough competitor. I believe they had a shaky start today against Japan, is what I was told by third-party sources. We have half a day today to have a look at both the games. We have already prepared for Australia back in Bangalore but watching the video will always help us see what new tactics they have now."
"It will be a tough game tomorrow and our players are up for the challenge. It's always good to win the first game at the Olympics and get the three points on board."
Indian hockey campaign off to a thrilling start
Carrying the hopes of an entire nation to end the 41-year medal drought at the Olympic Games, the Indian Men's Hockey Team got off to a rollicking start. The Indians fought back from a goal down to finish the game 3-2 to emerge victorious in this group stage game.
While it was Rupinder Pal Singh who opened the scoreboard for India in the 10th minute, Harmanpreet Singh snatched the lead with a goal in the 26th minute. He was on the mark again when he extended India's lead in the 33rd minute.
New Zealand were resilient in their approach. They scored a second goal in time to make things interesting. The Kiwis also had multiple chances to level things u. Their biggest opportunity came in the dying seconds of the match when they secured a PC. But India's PR Sreejesh denied that effort to help India register a 3-2 win.
Indians put on a great show against the Kiwis
Although it was India who made an aggressive start to the match, New Zealand managed to strike against the run of play to score the opener. Mandeep Singh won an early PC for India in the third minute after a good assist from Nilakanta Sharma and it seemed India would be able to make the pressure tell from the set-piece.
However, it was New Zealand who managed to draw first blood after Rupinder missed the target by a whisker while converting the PC. New Zealand’s Kane Russell made no such error as he successfully pumped the ball into India's post to earn a 1-0 lead in the 6th minute.
Their lead lasted only a few minutes as an infringement on the line cost New Zealand a penalty stroke. This time, the lanky Rupinder was bang on target, fetching India a much-needed equalizer.
The first quarter was fought rather intensely as New Zealand kept India's PC defense busy. They were awarded as many as four PCs towards the end of the quarter but India’s defense with experienced PR Sreejesh at the post held strong to keep New Zealand from scoring.
Shaking off the early jitters, India looked more dangerous in the second quarter. They created two early chances to score but it was not until the 26th minute that India took a promising 2-1 lead. A good referral by team India saw them win a PC which was brilliantly converted through a sensational set piece.
A good injection by Shamsher Singh, stopped well by Nilakanta Sharma, was nudged away by Rupinder to Harmanpreet who struck the ball past the New Zealand keeper with lightning speed.
India came back stronger in the third quarter, creating some early chances. Attackers Mandeep Singh and Dilpreet Singh worked well in the forward line to create scoring opportunities. The attack helped in fetching another PC for India and the New Zealand defence could do little to stop Harmanpreet’s fantastic flick from hitting the back of the goal.
It gave India a 3-1 lead in the 33rd minute of the match. Though India was awarded another PC in the 36th minute, New Zealand keeper Leon Hayward managed to make a good save to keep the scoreline competitive.
The tides turned again in the 43rd minute after a lapse of concentration in the Indian backline enabled New Zealand to bounce back with a well-struck field goal. Stephen Jenness was set-up with a good assist from the right flank by Nick Wilson.
Test of nerves in the fourth quarter
The final quarter was tense, with both teams keeping the tempo up despite soaring temperatures in Tokyo, which recorded 33 degrees on the game day. New Zealand stitched together a compdefenseence. Their goalie Hayward continued to impress as he stopped striker Lalit Upadhyay from scoring India's fourth goal.
The dying minutes of the match were a battle of nerves, particularly for India as they conceded back-to-back PCs. While the Indian skipper was vital as the first rusher in New Zealand’s two attempts, Sreejesh proved why he is one of the best keepers in the world when he made two match-winning saves that ensured India a victory in their opening encounter in the Tokyo Olympics.