Olympic bronze medallist India failed to make an impressive start in the Hero Men’s Asian Champions Trophy Hockey Tournament at Dhaka on Tuesday. India not only squandered away 2-0 lead but also dropped a point to South Korea in its opening game. Since Malaysia would not be competing, the Champions Trophy has been reduced to a five-team league-cum-knockout tournament.
Indians were denied a winning start as a spirited Korean team came back strongly in the second half to overcome the 0-2 deficit to snatch a valuable point.
For India, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (3′) and Harmanpreet Singh (33′) scored while Jonghyun Jang (42′) and Kim Hyeongjin (46′) scored for Korea.
Although it was India who dominated the proceedings in the first and second quarters with better ball possession and higher number of circle penetrations, the Koreans rallied on a strong defensive structure in the third and fourth quarter to deny any opportunity for India to score.
After Lalit put India ahead early in the game with a fine field goal, converting an aerial pass, India created another fine opportunity in the second quarter through Akashdeep Singh’s tomahawk from the left top of the circle. But a vigilant Korean goalie Kim Jaehyeon made a fine save to keep India from extending the lead. He came up with another brilliant save when India earned its first penalty corner of the match only minutes before the end of the second quarter. It was Varun Kumar who took the shot that rebounded off Kim’s pads but new comer Mandeep Mor’s attempt off the rebound too was well saved by the Korean goalie.
India extended its lead to 2-0 in the 33rd minute with a fiercely struck penalty corner by Harmanpreet Singh. It was India’s third take of the PC after the first two were blocked by Korea’s first rusher. Even though India created several chances in the following minutes, it could not find success even as Korea had successfully begun to make inroads into India’s circle.
Their tactic to force India to make infringements in defence worked, as India conceded a penalty corner in the 42nd minute. After the two retakes, Jonghyun Jang successfully put the ball past India’s goalie Krishan Pathak. This goal boosted the Korean attack, that had seemed rather listless in the first two quarters.
The Koreans continued to challenge the Indian defence in the final quarter and even found success in the 46th minute when Kim Hyeongjin scored a fine field goal. The final few minutes saw India getting penalty corners but could not convert, thus settling for a 2-2 draw. Incidentally, India had drawn against Korea 1-1 at the same venue in 2017 during its successful campaign at the Hero Asia Cup. Korea was the only team India had not beaten in that victorious outing.
Post-match, Skipper Manpreet Singh expressed his disappointment but at the same time was confident the team would bounce back from this draw. “Korea were really good today with their defence and their goalkeeper was quite outstanding. We expected them to give us a hard time and hence it was important we started well. But we couldn’t keep up that momentum going into the third and fourth quarter. Nonetheless, this was the first match of the tournament and we surely will bounce back tomorrow against Bangladesh,” stated the India Captain.