The Indian men started their competitive campaign in the Olympic year with a comprehensive 4-1 win against Spain in their FIH Pro League opener on Saturday, the win as impressive for the performance as the result.
The Indians, coming in from a mixed South Africa tour that saw them win easy against lower-ranked host and France before losing big against the Netherlands — India’s next opponent here on Sunday — kept the tempo high. It was pleasant to see a fast-paced, open game that had enough opportunities for both sides and not restricted to being a game of attrition in the middle.
But it was the midfield that was at the heart of the Indian team’s superiority, with Hardik Singh controlling it brilliantly to set up the attacks. The vice-captain was instrumental in earning the first PC for India that captain Harmanpreet Singh converted, slamming hard into the board.
In front of packed-as-usual stands, the Indians showed both speed and control, racing away with the ball when in possession but taking time inside the circle to get into the right positions.
Although there was only one open goal — a lovely reverse volley by Lalit Upadhyay off Sukhjeet’s pass, standing all alone inside the circle even as the Spaniards assumed a foul — Harmanpreet and Jugraj Singh ensured the seven PCs earned — and a stroke — would not be wasted, going 3-0 up at half-time.
The stand-out players, though, were veterans Manpreet Singh and P.R. Sreejesh. Manpreet, ostensibly a midfielder, was all over the field, running the length of the turf from attack to defence, changing flanks as required and constantly keeping the opposition under pressure.
With his speed and skills, Manpreet kept disrupting attacks — Spain fighting to get back into the game in the second half with some well-timed shots at goal, only to be repeatedly thwarted by Sreejesh, including two back-to-back saves.
Earlier, the Dutchmen overcame a spirited Ireland 5-1 to remain on top of the leaderboard.
The results: Netherlands 5 (Jip Janssen 35, 52, Tjep Hoedemakers 12, Jorrit Croon 21, Steijn van Heijningen 53) bt Ireland 1 (Lee Cole 36); India 4 (Harmanpreet Singh 7, 20, Jugraj Singh 24, Lalit Upadhyay 50) bt Spain 1 (Marc Miralles 34).