India made a flying start to their FIH Hockey Pro League campaign as they upset the Netherlands in their opening match at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Saturday.
Gurjant Singh (1st minute), Rupinder Pal Singh (12th, 46th), Mandeep Singh (34th), Lalit Upadhyay (36th) scored for the hosts while Jip Janssen (14th) and Jeroen Hertzberger (28th) found the net for the visitors.
On the eve of the match, India coach Graham Reid had spoken about his philosophy of always playing for a win. The players responded and got off to a flying start when Mandeep intercepted the ball immediately after the push back and helped launch a quick counter-attack from the left that led to Gurjant putting India ahead within 30 seconds of the start of play.
The Indians adopted a high-pressing strategy in the opening quarter and kept the pressure on the visitors in the first 10 minutes and were duly rewarded for their efforts when Upadhyay earned them their first penalty corner with a video referral claiming that the ball had hit the Dutch defender inside the striking circle. Rupinder made no mistake with the conversion.
However, the Indians were guilty of dropping off the intensity after taking the lead and that allowed the Netherlands to apply some pressure on the hosts and earn a penalty corner which Janssen converted with ease.
The Dutch came out all guns blazing in the second quarter and probably had their best period of play as they kept the Indian midfield in check and went into the half-time looking confident of turning the tables on the hosts with Hertzberger finding the net two minutes from the break. The visitors could have scored more if not for a couple of good saves by PR Sreejesh, who came in at the end of the first quarter.
The hosts, however, changed the script completely after the restart as they once again began pressing higher and took control of the proceedings. Mandeep made a fine turn to beat the Dutch custodian four minutes from the restart and Upadhyay gave the finishing touch to a fine run from Harmanpreet Singh two minutes later to restore India’s two-goal advantage.
Rupinder then ensured that there was no point of return for the visitors when he found the net for the second time in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
The hosts were not only clinical in their execution but also with their video referrals. They challenged the referre’s decision half a dozen times during the match and got every one of them right.
The two teams will once again face off on Sunday in the second match of this leg.