India could not have asked for a better start. Its 5-0 triumph over France at Potchefstroom in South Africa in its opening game of the FIH Pro League 2022 indicates that there has been no let-up in the team’s preparedness ever since it won a bronze at Tokyo Olympics 2020.
While the victory gave India maximum three points, it also turned out to be a memorable game for Akashdeep Singh, who celebrated his 200th international with a goal and man of the match award.
The Netherlands recorded a fluent 11-1 win over the hosts South Africa to move to the top of the table. The Dutch got two of their goals from three penalty strokes they earned during the game.
India had five different scorers in a game in which its domination was seldom in question. After a little floppy or slow start in the first quarter, Indians quickly settled down by the time first quarter was over by notching up much needed lead in the 13th minute with a penalty corner goal by the vice-captain and experienced drag flicker Harmanpreet Singh.
Of four penalty corners India earned, two resulted in goals. After Harmanpreet, it was Varun Kumar who scored with a neat flick in the extreme right corner of the goal in the 28th minute.
Two goals apart, India continued its strong grip over the game by adding three more goals in the second half through Shamsher Singh, Mandeep Singh and the man of the match Akashdeep Singh.
Akashdeep, as a skilful forward, has for long been a significant part of the Indian team’s attack since he made his debut in 2012 at the FIH Champions Trophy 2012. He has since then been a part of the team’s important victories at the FIH Champions Trophy in 2012, historic Asian Games gold in 2014, the FIH Champions Trophy silver in 2016, FIH Hockey League final in Raipur as well as the FIH Hockey League final in Bhubaneswar 2017.
He was also part of the team that won the Asia Cup in Dhaka in 2017 and also the bronze medal feat in Asian Games 2018. He also has to his credit a gold medal in the Asian Champions Trophy 2016 and 2018. He returned to the squad in December 2021 when India won bronze in the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka recently.
Speaking about the milestone, Akashdeep said, “This is a special moment for me. It has been a fantastic journey with the Indian team all these years and I absolutely enjoy my role with it. It is great to see from within the group, how much we have improved over these years as a team and I hope we continue to grow as one unit in order to achieve greater success this year.”
Congratulating him, Gyanendro Ningombam, President, Hockey India said, “I congratulate Akashdeep Singh on completing 200 International matches for India. This is a big feat and wish Akashdeep the best in his endeavour to be a significant part of India’s growth in world hockey. He has been part of India’s numerous victories over the past decade and I hope he continues to deliver for India in important matches.”
The India-France was also noteworthy as it was the first FIH international men’s match that was umpired by two female umpires. Wanri Venter – who was also part of the first FIH Pro League match to have mixed gender umpires – took to the field with Annelize Rostron to take charge of the game.
In the second match, the Netherlands took advantage of a nervous start by South Africa to take the lead in the seventh minute when Tim Swaen slotted a penalty stroke past Siyavuya Nolutshungu.
South Africa rallied and the lightning speed of Dayaan Cassiem, Jethro Eustice and Nqobile Ntuli created all sorts of problems for the Dutch. The energy of the forward line paid off when Ntuli scored to bring the scores level.
If the first quarter was shared, then the second quarter was all about the Netherlands. Three goals – from captain Thierry Brinkman, Derck de Vilder and Player of the Match Thijs van Dam – put the game beyond South Africa’s reach.
A quieter third quarter saw just one goal – albeit in the 15th second after the restart – scored by Jorrit Croon. But a blistering and relentless final quarter saw six goals, including a beautifully shot hit on the run by Tijmen Reyenga, plus goals for Swaen, Brinkman, Koen Bijen and two for Jip Janssen.
Player of the Match Thijs van Dam (NED) said: ‘Today we played a really great match. We have been here 10 days already and we have trained hard and finally we can play some matches.’
Today’s results puts Netherlands at the top of the table, one point ahead of Belgium. India, with one win from one match sits in fourth place.
FIH Hockey Pro League
Result: Tuesday 8 February 2022 – Potchefstroom (South Africa)
Men’s FIH Hockey Pro League
France 0-5 India
Player of the Match: Akashdeep Singh (India)
South Africa 1-11 Netherlands
Player of the Match: Thijs van Dam (the Netherlands)