Rio 2016 Olympics Hockey: In its opener against lowly Ireland, the Indian hockey team has got off to a rollicking start
Rio 2016 Olympics Hockey: In its opener against lowly Ireland, the Indian hockey team got off to a rollicking start, scoring a goal almost at the end of the first quarter and then one in the second again from a penalty corner, setting itself firmly up for a win. India dominated play throughout the first quarter but they did not get close to scoring and the team coach must have heaved a sigh of relief after looking at getting nothing in return for some superb play initially after Rupinder scored the first one.
Having said that, the Irish proved a tough nut to crack as they covered the ground well and attacked in good numbers. Most of all they are unwilling to give up ground to the more skillful Indians and this strategy they effected well. The Irish players are physically more dominant and their running is superb even though their stickwork lacks in quality and this cost them the match eventually.
The Indian hockey captain had on Friday warned that the Irish team would be tough to play. He had said on the eve of the match that, “The Irish can be unpredictable. They have been doing well in the European Championships and are sturdy and fast on the ball. It won’t be an easy game to win and we will need to go full force.”
That prediction came true and was very much evident in the first quarter and the Irish again proved their quality by winning a penalty corner but were not able to convert that into a goal as the Indian runners prevented them from putting their strategy into play, forcing the Irish into committing a foul. But they did not give up.
In fact, Ireland managed to force another Indian error and force a penalty corner soon thereafter but that too went a begging.
Indian hockey team led 2-0 courtesy another excellent goal from as the hooter sounded for end of second quarter – this again was courtesy a penalty corner. India did not look threatening enough in field play, unfortunately.
For the Irish reaching the Olympics was itself a huge achievement as the last time they qualified was way back in 1908 – that was a standout performance too as the team won a silver medal.
However, there is no argument that the Indians were the favourites. And evidence for that is that they won penalty corner after penalty corner even though they were not able to score as often.
The Irish are a very strong team, no doubt. Leading up to the Olympics, they have beaten the much more fancied Malaysia and even one of the strongest hockey teams in the world, that is Pakistan at the 2015 FIH World League semis and thereafter with Australia’s Oceania Cup win, they had had ensured they qualified for Rio.
What may have played on Indian minds is the fact that they have not won an opening match at the Olympics since the Sydney Games held way back in 2000 in which they had demolished Argentina 3-0. Unfortunately for India, it had run into a dominant Netherlands at Athens Olympics in and London Games losing 3-1 and 3-2.
That winning streak stood the Irish in good stead as they effected a fine fightback during the third quarter. While they held the Indian team goalless, they themselves managed to score almost at the fag end of the quarter – Jermyn being the player. Now, the Irish have grabbed the momentum and it remains to be seen how effectively they will be able to force an equaliser. Having said that, the Indian game did not deteriorate, but they did let Irish back in the game in the third and fourth quarters something that will concern coach Roelant Oltmans.
The talking to by the coach at the end of the third quarter looked to have worked as India attacked in good numbers almost as soon as the referee blew his whistle to start the fourth quarter, and they succeeded in scoring their third goal – Rupinder was the goal-scorer. John Jackson was injured on his right-knee by the ball when the Indian player took the shot and had to be replaced.
However, even though the Irish increased the pressure by surprisingly bringing its goalkeeper into field play, yet the Indian team was able to prevent them from scoring again during the match – this was again unnecessary as the Irish came quite close to scoring in the dying moments and that would have dented Indian medal hopes tremendously.
India has as such registered its first win against the Irish 3:2 and sent a warning to other teams that it is a great goal-scoring unit and also has a capability to defend well. Surely, a great combination that will take it far in the Olympics.
India at the Olympics results Indian contingent on the 1st day of competition (till 22:00 IST):
Hockey (Men) (Group League)
India 3 (Rupinderpal 27, 49, VR Raghunath 15th min) beat
Ireland 2 (John Jermyn 45th, Connor Harte 56th)
Men’s Single Sculls (Heats)
Dattu Baban Bhokanal in quarter-final (3rd in Heats; 7:21.67s)
Women’s 10m Air Rifle (Qualifying Rounds)
Apurvi Chandela 34th (411.6) (Failed to qualify)
Ayonika Paul 47th (403) (Failed to qualify)
Men’s Doubles (1st Round)
Leander Paes/Rohan Bopanna lost to Marcin Makowski/Lukasz Kubot (Poland) 4-6 6-7 (6-8).
Women’s Singles (1st Round)
Mouma Das lost to Daniela Dodean Monteiro (Romania) 2-11, 7-11, 7-11, 3-11.
Manika Batra lost to Katarzyna Franc-Grzybowska (Poland) 12-10 6-11 12-14 11-8 4-11 12-14.