Hockey WC: India Thrash South Africa 5-0 in Pool C Opener
India off to a flier at HWC 2018 with Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh & Lalit Upadhyay on target.
Hosts India made a perfect start at the 2018 FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar with a commanding 5-0 win over South Africa in their Pool C opener on Wednesday, 28 November.
Eyeing a first World Cup title since 1975, India began their campaign with a dominant display at the Kalinga Stadium, overpowering South Africa from start to finish.
Two goals in the space of two first-quarter minutes from Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh gave the Harendra Singh-coached side an ideal opening, before three quick strikes on either side of the final quarter sealed a thumping victory.
Simranjeet Singh’s goals in the 43rd and 46th minute were sandwiched by one from Lalit Upadhyay as India took top spot in their group after the opening day’s action.
World No. 3 Belgium had earlier overcome Canada 2-1 in the tournament opener.
No Opening Day Nerves
That it took ten minutes for the opening goal to arrive was a surprise given the way the hosts toyed with the South African defense in the first quarter. India's first chance came as early as the third minute when skipper Manpreet Singh found an unmarked Mandeep alone inside the box with a defence-splitting pass, but the striker failed to get his stick to the ball.
He made amends just seven minutes later though, when he was first to react to a save from South African goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse after India’s first penalty corner.
The lead was doubled three minutes later through Akashdeep, who scored after the ball fell in front of his stick from a deflection off Simranjeet Singh.
At 15th in the world, South Africa are the second-lowest ranked team in the tournament – and the gulf between the visitors and their No. 5-ranked opponents was amply clear through the evening.
The pressure was maintained on the South African defence in the second quarter. India secured their second short corner in the 19th minute, but failed to utilise the chance as they went for a variation.
Two minutes before half-time, Nilkanta Sharma and Sumit combined well to create a great opportunity but the former missed the goal from close range.
Player of the Match: Simranjeet Singh
Leading by a comfortable two goals, India continued in the same vein after the change of ends and scored two fine field goals in the third quarter. The goals arrived after South Africa’s closest opportunities to breach the Indian defense.
Veteran custodian PR Sreejesh stood alert to deny Richard Pautz in the 40th minute, while the South Africans wasted their first penalty corner of the match minutes later.
Three Indian goals in the span of four minutes of breath-taking field-play, however, knocked the fight out of South Africa.
Simranjeet scored the first of his two goals in the 43rd minute, tapping in after Mandeep dribbled past a few defenders to set him up.
Two minutes later, a diving Lalit deflected home a diagonal pass from Akashdeep before Simranjeet arrived on the scene again for his second from India’s fourth penalty corner immediately after the start of the final quarter.
India’s next tie, on Sunday, 2 December, is expected to be their sternest examination of the group stage. They take on world number three Belgium, with South Africa facing Canada on the same day.
The two matches on Thursday, 29 November, pit Olympic champions Argentina against Spain and New Zealand against France in Pool A.
(With inputs from PTI)
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