2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup | India starts its campaign with a fighting with against Spain

After a first half of complete dominance, total possession and relentless attack, the host is forced into a tough battle against lower-ranked Spain; England too makes a winning start against neighbour Wales

January 13, 2023 09:27 pm | Updated January 14, 2023 05:44 pm IST - Rourkela

Hardik Singh celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Spain during the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 in Rourkela Odisha on January 13, 2023.

Hardik Singh celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Spain during the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 in Rourkela Odisha on January 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

It was never supposed to be easy. And India’s opening game in the Hockey World Cup 2023 lived up to its billing, creating moments of exhilaration and despair in equal measure in front of the cheering 20,000-plus crowd at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium here on Friday before prevailing 2-0 against Spain.

On paper, India is ranked higher. And for more than 45 minutes of the match, the host played like one. There was complete dominance, total possession, relentless attack and multiple circle penetrations to keep Spain on the backfoot. One of those saw India’s second penalty corner turning into goal, local boy Amit Rohidas slotting in a rebound after Harmanpreet Singh’s shot was saved in the 13th minute. Exactly 13 minutes later, Hardik Singh’s ball grab from the half line and a solo run past four defenders all the way to the backline ended in India’s second goal, deflected off Pau Cunill’s stick.

From bamboo sticks to World Cup debut. Inspiring story of Indian Hockey team’s Nilam Sanjeep Xess | Video Credit: ANI

Rock solid

In between, Akashdeep Singh proved he still had the skills to steal balls with ease upfront and the Indian defence seemed unbreakable, hardly allowing Spain into the circle in the first 25 minutes. Goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak had a brilliant game and kept improving as the match progressed. It was towards the end of the 2nd quarter that the Spaniards began getting their act together to try and change the script. It almost worked in the second half.

They started closing down space, enforcing turnovers, breaking the field into small pockets – like during training – to control the game. India still held the upper hand with the forwards constantly earning penalty corners and nagging the opposition defence but Spain was managing to pry open an occasional gap.

Playing with 10 men for the last 12 minutes was the toughest period for India after Abhishek was sent off for an iffy tackle. Three back-to-back saves in open play and a penalty corner to boot proved Pathak’s growing confidence. It was not the most convincing of wins but against a slippery opponent like Spain, India’s performance was more than enough.

Earlier, England too made a winning start to its campaign with a comprehensive 5-0 win against neighbour Wales. England dominated all through and looked set to run riot when Nicholas Park struck in the very first minute but the Welsh threw everything in their defence, barely managing to enter England circle.

The results: Pool D: England 5 (Liam Ansell 2, Nicholas Park, Phil Roper, Nicholas Bandurak) bt Wales 0; India 2 (Amit Rohidas, Hardik Singh) bt Spain 0.

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