India outclass France to open Pro League campaignFebruary 9, 2022
After the high of the Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo, the Indian men’s hockey team started 2022 in style, thrashing France 5-0 in their opening match of the FIH Pro League at Potchefstroom, South Africa, on Tuesday.
Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar got the first two goals from penalty corners before Shamsher Singh, Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh found the target to secure a thoroughly one-sided verdict.
India face hosts South Africa in their next FIH Pro League encounter on Wednesday.
The Indians, under head coach Graham Reid, took time to get into groove as the French exerted some pressure in the opening quarter, which ended goalless. The few opportunities that India got – including two successive penalty corners – were repelled by resolute defending or wasted by errant shooting. It was in the second period that the floodgates opened with Harmanpreet (21st minute) and Varun (24th) getting on the scoresheet through set-pieces, both finding the target with low shots to the goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry’s right. and Shamsher capping a quick counterattack with India’s third goal, the final pass coming from Abhishek.
The second half started with Mandeep Singh making it 4-0 from an assist by skipper Manpreet Singh in the 32nd minute. Akashdeep, playing his 200th match for India, then found the target with a reverse hit in the 41st.
France tried to make some sort of comeback in the final quarter and earned back-to-back penalty corners in the 48th minute, but could not reduce the margin. The Indians too couldn’t add to their tally in the last 15 minutes but the final scoreline would be a satisfactory one against a team ranked 13th in the world which entered the FIH Pro League after Canada pulled out due to Covid-19 concerns.
Once the Indian team got into rhythm, they kept the French defence under relentless pressure. When the first half ended, India had had 14 shots at goal, with their opponents managing just five. Australian Reid’s wards converted two of their four penalty corners while the European team failed to make use of the three they got.
By the time the game ended, the Indians had taken 22 attempts at goal, compared to only nine by the French. Though possession was evenly distributed, the Olympic medallists made much better use of the ball, making as many as 34 circle penetrations as against 26 by the opponents.