BHUBANESWAR: For a period of 10 minutes in the first quarter, the match threatened to develop into a contest. Russia had the ball and decided they could pass and move and venture into opposition territory with it. One move in that time period even had one of the opposition defenders scrambling to get the ball out of harm’s way. Russia’s problem, however, was what they did, or did not do, for the other 50 minutes. They gave India too much respect and paid the price, losing 0-10. While the rules of the sport don’t allow this, the umpires ought to have blown the final whistle with at least 15 minutes remaining.
One statistic alone emphasised the drop in class between the elite and the next tier of world hockey — India’s last tournament at the Kalinga Stadium, the World Cup , saw them score four penalty corners in as many matches. On Thursday, they scored that many in 60 minutes.
While it’s definitely a case of damned if they do and damned if they don’t — new coach Graham Reid would have been reading his first obituaries if his wards hadn’t run up a cricket score — the World No 5 can still be happy with this performance. There was some slick passing, lots of pressing that yielded positive results and cute geometry all over the field but the one major positive to emerge from this match was the number of chances converted. Before the tournament, both captain Manpreet Singh, playing in his 250th match, and Reid had emphasised that as an area of concern.
Some part of their training session over the last two weeks was also dedicated to receiving the ball, evading a marker, turning before slamming the ball into the the net. Akashdeep Singh’s finish four minutes from time was a carbon copy of that training ground move. In a microcosm, the goal summed up India’s swagger — 10 goals scored from 22 shots. But it’s important to place this win into context. Russia are ranked 22nd and do not generally play top 10 sides. In fact, they have been in the EuroHockey Championship (Europe’s premier hockey meet) only once in the last four editions since 2013.
While Reid was happy with the number of opportunities the team created, he said there was more scope to improve when it came to finishing. “You have to understand that the coach is never happy. Yes, we created lots of opportunities but we can still do better (in finishing).” Singh was more ebullient in his praise of the forward line. “It was good to see them scoring,” he said. “We need to finish like this in all our matches.”