Those who remember old days, there used to be pre-Olympic events, organized at the venue of summer Olympic events to test the facilities. The concept was, however, given a go by and instead, invitation tournaments were introduced. This time, however, Japan, decided to revive the traditional practice by organizing the pre-Olympic event as a Test event. And in hockey, the organizing committee decided to hold special 4-nation tournaments, both for men and women. Interestingly, India was invited for both the tournaments. It may well be called a Test event, but some of the participating teams are yet to get a ticket of confirmation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. India is one of them.
In the men’s section, India made an impressive start with a 6-0 win against Malaysia but lost the second game against world number 8 New Zealand 1-2. The women’s team, however, remains unbeaten. After defeating the Asian Games champion and the host Japan 2-1 in the opener, Indian women held world number 2 Australia to a 2-2 draw in the second game.
After an impressive win in the opener of the Olympic Test Event, India’s defeat at the hands of New Zealand may well make team officials sit up and start analyzing the performance of the team. Captain and Drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh gave India the lead in the 2nd minute by converting a penalty corner. New Zealand not only retaliated in the last quarter but also scored a match clincher to earn full three points from the game. The goal scorers for Black Sticks were Jacob Smith (47′) and Sam Lane (60′).
World No. 5 India started the match on an aggressive note by dominating possession in the opening few minutes. India won its first penalty corner in the 2nd minute, which was neatly converted by Harmanpreet Singh. The Indian team continued to attack and won another penalty corner in the 6th minute, but could not find the target. It was a difficult phase for New Zealand as it was under constant pressure, but given its recent experience of playing in the FIH Pro League, the World No. 8 side defended well and avoided giving away another goal before the half-time break.
India tried to extend its lead in the initial few minutes of the third quarter through some good combination play inside New Zealand’s striking circle but failed to make any break-through. Harmanpreet Singh had another chance to extend his team’s lead in the 42nd minute, but could only force New Zealand’s goalkeeper Richard Joyce into making a good save. The last quarter of the match saw New Zealand turn around the momentum as it started to attack the Indians on the counter. It was in the 47th minute that New Zealand worked out a good combination in the Indian half, and produced an effective attack which saw Jacob Smith find the back of the net to equalize. The Indians were dealt with a huge blow. With barely a minute remaining on the clock, it was New Zealand’s turn to counter and their execution was perfect as they scored the winner through Sam Lane, who took advantage of India being short of players in defense.
Yesterday, when the Event got off to a start, it was a great opportunity for both 22-year-old Shamsher Singh and 21-year-old Asish Kumar Topno to make their international debut in seniors section. Besides, the game against Malaysia also saw Mandeep Singh (two), Gursahibjit Singh (two), Gurinder Singh and SV Sunil scoring goals in the first game.
The Indians held an upper hand in the first quarter as the experienced SV Sunil, Mandeep Singh, and Gursahibjit Singh, all created chances inside the first 10 minutes. Mandeep Singh looked in good rhythm as he took two shots at Malaysian goalkeeper Kumar Subramiam who forced saves on both the occasions. It was in the 8th minute that India earned its first penalty corner which was converted by Gurinder Singh to give his team the lead. The following minutes saw India dominate its fellow Asian opponents and won as many as four penalty corners through some great attacking play. First, it was debutant Ashis Kumar Topno, and then Nilam Sanjeep Xess and Vivek Kumar Prasad also won PCs for India. However, good work by the first rushers and a couple of good saves by Kumar meant that India could only manage one goal in the opening quarter.
However, the start of the second quarter saw India continue from where it left and scored in the 18th minute through forwarding Gursahibjit Singh, who was found inside the striking circle by Gurjant Singh to make it 2-0. World No. 12 Malaysia also forced Indian goalkeeper Suraj Karkera to make a couple of fine saves in the new few minutes, but could not pull a goal back before the half-time break. The Indians continued to attack the Malaysians at the start of the third quarter, and it was Vice-Captain Mandeep Singh who registered his name on the score-sheet in the 33rd minute after Jaskaran Singh set him up well through some creative play. Malaysia was awarded a penalty corner two minutes later, but could only force it wide of the post. India had some more opportunities towards the end of the third quarter as Harmanpreet Singh and SV Sunil saw their shots going wide of the post.
The last quarter saw India put more pressure on its opponents and score three more goals to make it a very convincing victory. It was in the 46th minute, that Mandeep Singh scored his second goal of the match as India attacked Malaysia on the counter. A Malaysian penalty corner was well-defended and converted into an attack which was finished off by Singh to make it 4-0. With a majority of the attacks coming from the Indian team, the fifth and sixth goals were also around the horizon and finally came in the 56th and 60th minutes as Gursahibjit Singh and SV Sunil scored respectively. For Gursahibjit’s second goal, it was Harmanpreet Singh who intercepted a Malaysian pass, and provided an assist to the forward to make it 5-0, while SV Sunil, who was making a comeback into the side, rounded off with a wonderful finish with just seconds remaining on the clock.
India holds world no. 2 Australia to a 2-2 draw
Goals by Vandana Katariya and drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur helped India to split points with world number two Australia in women’s section of Tokyo Olympics Hockey Test event. The match saw India twice cancel Australia’s lead to earn itself a hard-fought draw with Kaitlin Nobbs (14′) and Grace Stewart (43′) scoring for the Australians before Vandana Katariya (36′) and Gurjit Kaur (59′) scoring for India.
World No. 10 India started the match aggressively, matching Australia’s attacking hockey with its own that saw both teams earn penalty corners, however, neither managed to score. It was only in the 14th minute that Australia earned a penalty stroke after an Indian defender blocked a shot at goal. Australia’s Kaitlin Nobbs made no mistake in converting from the spot to give her side a 1-0 advantage. The World No. 2 side dominated the second quarter completely, putting the Indian team under intense pressure through multiple attacks and penalty corners. But Indian defense with goalkeeper Savita made a couple of great saves to deny Australia increase its lead into the half-time break.
The starting of the third quarter again saw Australia dominate possession and creating a couple of goal-scoring opportunities through penalty corners, however, Savita made fine saves again to deny the Australians. On the other hand, it was India who struck on the break as Vandana Katariya finished off a superb team-move to equalize for her team in the 36th minute. But the lead did not last long as Australia started to look for its second goal. It was in the 43rd minute that it finally found a second through some exquisite teamwork, which saw Grace Stewart also registering her name on the score-sheet and giving Australia a 2-1 lead.
It was a tough ask for the Indian team as Australia played well, and did not give it enough space inside the striking circle. However, the World No. 10 team showed determination as it kept looking for the equalizer in the last quarter. With moves breaking down, and chances going begging, it looked like Australia would hold onto its 2-1 lead, but with just a couple of minutes remaining on the clock, India earned a penalty corner in the 59th minute. India’s prolific drag-flicker Gurjit Kaur stepped up, and struck a blow into the back of the net, to earn her side a well-deserved draw.
India starts with a win women’s section
On the opening day when the Indian women’s team started its campaign at the Olympic Test Event with a resilient 2-1 victory over hosts Japan here at the Oi Hockey Stadium, it also saw 17-year-old Sharmila Devi making her international debut. It was India who took an early lead through their penalty corner specialist, Gurjit Kaur, in the 9th minute, but the hosts equalized in the 16th minute as Aki Mitsuhashi scored a field goal. However, it was Gurjit Kaur who stepped up again in the 35th minute to convert yet another Penalty Corner which turned out to be the decisive goal in the match.
The Indians started the match well with aggressive intent and had a few opportunities in the opening ten minutes. It was in the 9th minute that the World No. 10 team found itself on the front foot, and ended up winning a penalty corner. The resulting drag-flick from Gurjit Kaur was struck beautifully and beat the Japanese goalkeeper Megumi Kageyama to give India an early lead. Both the teams playing with 16 players in accordance to the Olympic Games guidelines, made swift and timely substitutions throughout the match, and it was in the 16th minute that Japan’s substitution worked for them as Aki Mitsuhashi finished off a great team goal to equalize the scores. The 29-year-old Japanese combined well with her teammates and scored to make it a good watch for the spectators.
With the majority of the attacks coming from the Indian team, the Japanese sat back and looked to attack the counter. The teams have played each other frequently in the past couple of years, which showed on the field as they understood each other’s tactics well, and it meant that the teams went into the half-time break level at 1-1.
The third quarter saw India dominate in the initial few minutes getting a penalty corner in the 35th minute. A moment of magic from Gurjit Kaur saw India regain its one-goal advantage as the 23-year-old smashed the ball into the back of the net. The hosts tried to look for another equalizer in the remaining minutes, but could not convert its opportunities into goals. The World No. 14 team could not get the equalizing goal, while India defended resiliently in the closing stages to see out the victory.