The 2017 Men’s Hockey World League (HWL) Final in Bhubaneswar opened with a glittering ceremony as Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik unveiled the HWL trophy much to the delight of the local crowd.
It set the stage up for India’s opener against title-holders and World Champions Australia under floodlights at the Kalinga Stadium packed to its 9000 capacity. But a story of hits and misses for both sides saw the entertaining clash ending in a 1-1 draw and the teams splitting points.
Mandeep Singh scored for India in the 20th minute but the Aussies equalised withing the next 60 seconds through a penalty-corner converstion by Jeremy Hayward.
The game began with two golden chances missed by Indian striker Gurjant Singh in the opening exchanges. In the very first minute, he had ample time in the Aussie circle to take aim but delayed his shot way too late, which allowed the defenders to prowl on him. Two minutes later, a double save by goalkeeper Tyler Lovell saved Australia again when, on the rebound, Gurjant’s tap-in was saved by the Aussie goalie.
The Aussies were taken aback seeing Indian attacks coming in waves as India dominated the first quarter that ended goal-less.
India captain Manpreet Singh, who had a brilliant outing in his 200th international appearance, said missed chances are common in a game of hockey.
“Hockey is a team game and mistakes are part and parcel of it. We can’t blame anyone that we missed so many goal-scoring chances. Missing chances is normal in hockey,” said Manpreet, who set up India’s goal in a cut-throat move.
The second quarter commenced with the Australians trying to reverse the flow of the game. The Indian defence however, stood up and looked to launch counter-attacks. A brilliant through ball in the 20th minute by Manpreet to Lalit Upadhyay allowed the Indian forward to complete the triangular move by finding Mandeep in the Australian D. The Junior World Cup-winner then made no mistake to beat Lovell and put India ahead.
But celebration in the stands was short-lived as the Aussies earned two back-to-back PCs and converted on the second through Hayward to equalise. Australia were clearly the superior team in the second half as the two sides walked back through the tunnel at half-time locked at 1-1.
In the third quarter, the Indians came out attacking, led by some good runs from SV Sunil and Mandeep. The 32nd minute saw Rupinder Pal Singh wasting two consecutive PCs. Breathtaking exchange of attacks was witnessed from both teams but none could get into the lead.
Australia’s PC conversion also left a lot to be desired as they wasted five of the six short corners they earned.
The last quarter saw both teams desperately trying to find the winning goal but shoddy finishing continued to mar the game of both the teams. India stepped up the pressure and dominated the last five minutes but were unable to score, and the game ended 1-1.
Missed chances was the order of the day for the Indians and their chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said he was happy but not “satisfied” with the team’s overall performance.
“You always want to win but I am always looking for alternatives. I am happy with the overall performance. You have no shots at your goal from field play against number two in the world and I think that’s really good,” Marijne said at the post-match press conference.
The hosts will next take on England on Saturday. The English team lost the opening match of the tournament 2-0 to Germany, who are currently on top of Pool B.