Hardik's goal for the ages gives India win in Hockey World Cup opener vs Spain | Hockey - Hindustan Times

Hardik's goal for the ages gives India win in Hockey World Cup opener vs Spain

By, Rourkela
Jan 14, 2023 12:52 AM IST

A fine win over the World No. 8 team sets up the hosts well for the rest of the World Cup.

A deafening roar followed by fireworks. You could have your eyes closed and still known that India had won their World Cup opener against Spain. The 20,000 spectators who turned up at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium got what they had come for, a convincing 2-0 victory for the hosts.

Hardik Singh (8) of India reacts after scoring a goal against Spain(PTI)
Hardik Singh (8) of India reacts after scoring a goal against Spain(PTI)

The contest between two top-8 teams was expected to be a tricky one but the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit completely dominated Spain -- first with the goals and then with a brilliant defensive performance in the second half. The margin could have been bigger if not for a few missed chances – the India skipper missed a penalty stroke too – but the victory showed India’s mettle against a side that is not just competitive but is generally regarded as one of the best defensive units in the world.

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Vice-captain and local boy Amit Rohidas raised the roof when he hammered in India’s first goal of the World Cup in the 13th minute but it was a certain Hardik Singh, who was the life of the game on Friday. After providing the push during the penalty corner that gave India their first goal, the 24-year-old performed the playmaker’s role for most of the contest, regularly poaching balls from the Spaniards, pressing quickly to push the ball to the strikers.

The Punjab player was single-handedly responsible for creating several of India’s chances which were not converted by Indian forwards – Shamsher Singh missed deflecting the ball into an open goal towards the end.

That is when Hardik decided to take matters into his own hands. Three minutes from half-time, the Indian Oil employee stole the ball from a Spanish midfielder near the centre of the pitch. From there he commenced a solo run towards the Spanish goal, dodging four defenders in the process before finally sliding the ball past goalie Mario Garin onto a Spanish stick and into the goal.

The goal was reminiscent of yet another ‘one for the ages’ goal, probably more significant given the stage, that Hardik had scored against Great Britain in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics.

With India leading 2-1 at the Oi Hockey Stadium, Hardik had then too poached the ball near the midfield, made a solo run to the semi-circle, evading two defenders before hitting the ball which was blocked by the goalkeeper. The ball returned to Hardik who then evaded four defenders to score India's third goal that sealed India’s spot in the semi-finals.

"Today's goal reminded me of that goal I scored in Tokyo," laughed Hardik, who made his India debut at the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy that India won. "I was just doing my job. I was thinking of pushing the ball ahead after gaining possession. But there were a couple of defenders so I decided to make a run for it. The strategy worked as I don't think they expected me to take the ball all alone to the goal."

Coming from an illustrious hockey family, Hardik’s paternal uncle is former India drag-flicker Jugraj Singh. Her aunt is former India international Rajbir Kaur while her husband Gurmail Singh was part of the 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning team. Hardik’s father Varinderpreet Singh and grandfather Pritam Singh were also hockey players but could not play for India.

"Whatever was happening was happening according to the circumstances of the match. You can say reflex action. My role was to push the ball to stroke points which I did throughout the match. That goal was supposed to be an assist but turned out to be a goal," added Hardik, trying but unable to hide his elation.

Clean slate

Perhaps the main reason why India were able to maintain a clean slate despite a couple of chances from Spain was Krishan Bahadur Pathak. For most of his career, a No 2 to main goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, the 25-year-old rose to the occasion thrice during the 60-minute contest on Friday, including once during a penalty corner.

"It was a good start. It is good to win the first game. Defensively we did well. It was important to keep the ball out of the goal," said India chief coach Graham Reid.

The clean slate was important considering the tough group India are in. Also, India were down to 10-men for 10 minutes in the final quarter when Abhishek was handed a yellow card for what seemed to be a not-so-rough-tackle. Hardik rose to the occasion again, making a double stop in the dying minutes of the game, halting Spain from scoring.

Overall, both teams have five shots on goal with India converting two and Spain none after the hosts had 63% of ball possession – which was 75% at half-time – in the opposition’s half. Though Spain failed to convert from all three PC attempts, India too wasted five chances with Rohidas' goal the only one India scored from a set piece.

India will next face England, who beat Wales 5-0 earlier, here on Sunday.

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    From badminton to cricket, Sandip Sikdar writes on many sporting disciplines. He has the experience of working in digital, news agency as well as print organisations. Motorsport remains his first love.

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