Hockey World Cup 2018: Rampant India thrash South Africa 5-0 to start their campaignNovember 29, 2018
The 14th edition of the hockey World Cup sprang to life with exactly what the 15,000-strong audience at the packed Kalinga Stadium as well as Indian fans wanted – the home team starting with a victory, and pumping in plenty of goals.
Chief coach Harendra Singh’s prayers were answered as his team began their campaign in Group C with a 5-0 victory over cash-strapped world No 15 South Africa, with members of India’s sole World Cup-winning team of 1975 watching from the stands.
One could have easily guessed the goals wearing a blindfold going by the roar of the crowd and firecrackers set off everytime India struck.
Man-of-the-Match Simranjeet Singh (43rd and 46th) scored a brace with Mandeep Singh (10th), Akashdeep Singh (12th) and Lalit Upadhyay (45th) helped the hosts ease the weight on the shoulders of the young team.
“The clean match sheet is a positive sign, which means all 11 played well. They came out and snatched the ball at the right moments and didn’t throw their sticks,” said Harendra.
India went on the attack from start with skipper Manpreet Singh creating a brilliant move in the second minute. Striker Mandeep missed an open goal, failed to trap the ball that had too much pace.
But he made amends soon. A set piece saw Harmanpreet Singh’s flick to the top left brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Gowan Jones. But Mandeep was at the right place at the right time, slapping in the rebound for India’s first goal of the tournament.
The crowd had to wait for only two more minutes for another goal as one of India’s finest poachers, Akashdeep found the ball in a crowded striking circle and pushed in. “Akash has a very good peripheral vision. He is lethal as a link man. He is taking the lead,” gushed Harendra.
Vice-captain Chinglensana Singh, playing his 200th international, was vibrant as always, creating several chances for the forwardline.
South Africa upped the ante and showed some resistance in the second quarter and the early part of the third period to not concede any goal.
“We were a bit complacent in the third quarter. The moment they were 0-2 down, they pulled one of their back three up to (turn him into) an extra midfielder. But we regrouped well. They smelt a goal but we didn’t let that happen,” added the India coach.
India hit a purple patch again at the last phase of the third quarter to score two goals in as many minutes. Simranjeet, who scored India’s winning goal at the 2016 junior World Cup final in Lucknow, recorded his first of the senior World Cup after Mandeep’s assist found his stick and South Africa goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse was caught napping.
Experienced forward Lalit Upadhyay scored India’s fourth, seconds from the end of the quarter.
South Africans, most of whose players had to pay for their trip to India, had more misery to endure as India were given another penalty corner. Harmanpreet took it again and missed but Simranjeet converted the second rebound, making it 5-0.
“We scored the goals, no matter how we score, PCs or not. We will go back in the meeting room and discuss what we lacked when we mis-stopped,” said Harendra.
India will next play 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallists Belgium on December 2 before leaving for a daylong bonding trip to Puri, a short break from their rigorous training routine.