Tokyo Olympics: Harmanpreet's brace, Sreejesh's heroics help India beat New Zealand 3-2
Harmanpreet Singh scored a brace and veteran goalkeeper PR Sreejesh stood like a wall in the closing minutes as the Indian men’s hockey team overcame a late surge from New Zealand to eke out a close 3-2 win in their opening Olympic Games match here on Saturday.
Aside from Harmanpreet (26th and 33rd minutes), Rupinder Pal Singh (10th) was the other goal-getter for the eight-time former champions, currently ranked fourth in the world, in the Pool A match at the Oi hockey stadium here.
For the eighth-ranked New Zealand, Kane Russell scored from a penalty corner in the sixth minute before Stephen Jenness (43rd minute) reduced the margin of defeat later in the match.
India will next play mighty Australia on Sunday. The Kookaburras beat hosts Japan 5-3 in another Pool A tie.
India’s chief coach Graham Reid was happy to start the campaign on a winning note but said there are many areas to improve ahead of Sunday’s tough match. “Winning three points in a competition like the Olympic Games is really important. I think we had a good second and third quarter but the first and fourth we struggled a little bit,” he said.
The Indians were shocked in the sixth minute when Russell found the top right corner of the Indian goal past Sreejesh with a fierce flick. Even though he didn’t score, striker Mandeep Singh was a live-wire for India upfront and earned a penalty corner for his side, which resulted in a penalty stroke from which Rupinder drew parity in the 10th minute.
Ten minutes into the second quarter, Harmanpreet gave India a 2-1 lead at half-time. Three minutes after the change of ends, Harmanpreet was again in the thick of things when he converted his second penalty corner of the day with a precision strike. But the match came to life when Jenness scored with a lovely finish past Sreejesh in the near post in the 43rd minute.
It was all New Zealand in the final few minutes of the game as they earned three penalty corners in quick succession but Sreejesh came to India’s rescue, making some brilliant saves to keep the opponents at bay. With
24 seconds to go, New Zealand secured another penalty corner but once again the experienced Sreejesh came to India’s rescue.
Asked about their next opponent Australia, Reid, himself an Australian, said: “I believe they had a shaky start today against Japan… It will be a tough game tomorrow and our players are up for the challenge.”
Fight goes in vain
The Indian women’s hockey team, however, failed to get a winning start. They fought valintly in the first two quarters before losing steam to go down 1-5 against world No. 1 The Netherlands in their opening pool match on Saturday.
India’s lone goal was scored by skipper Rani Rampal in the 10th minute.
India will play Germany in their next Pool A match on Monday.