BHUBANESWAR : The difference in quality between India and South Africa was so stark it was evident as early as the third minute. The hosts had already taken the lead in the final of the Series Finals and hadn’t relinquished control of the ball for the first 180 seconds. So South Africa, who went down 0-5 to India at the World Cup six months ago, put all their energy and focus into avoiding a similar embarrassment. But they failed to do that as the Men In Blue kept coming forward like a tsunami-charged wave. The final score — 5-1 to Manpreet Singh & Co. — could have been more if they had converted all their presentable chances.
A portent of the match’s outcome was visible with just 70 seconds on the clock with India getting their first penalty corner even before the crowd had settled into their seats. Varun Kumar found the bottom corner with a fierce drive and South African heads had already fallen down. Much of their play revolves around using physicality and keeping things tight for as long as possible. India’s pace and movement had thrown that tactic out of the window. Once they had established supremacy, the goals just kept coming. With four minutes to go for the second quarter, Harmanpreet Singh scored from a short corner.
Ten minutes later, Harmanpreet again found the net, this time from the penalty spot after a South African tackle was deemed illegal. Vivek Sagar Prasad and Varun Kumar further embellished the scoreline. Graham Reid knows his work won’t be judged by this title but well begun is half done. His next assignment — the Olympic qualifiers in October-November — will be his first major test.
Earlier Asian Games champions Japan defeated USA 4-2 in a hard-fought match to finish third. World No 18 Japan scored through Kazuma Murata (11th), Yoshiki Krishita (25th), Kenta Tanaka (60th and 60th) to emerge winners.