The Indian hockey men’s team began their journey under new coach Sjoerd Marijne on a positive note as they beat Japan 5-1 in their Asia Cup opener in Dhaka on Wednesday. With critics lamenting that Marijne, who has never coached a men’s team before, wasn’t the right man for the job, his team’s aggressive display would have silenced them at least for the time being.
Here are the talking points from an enthralling performance by India:
The Marijne effect
Against Japan, India were a different team compared to the side under former coach Dutchman Roelant Oltmans. India was playing quick passes and the play was direct. They looked a different team from the side that flattered to deceive in the Hockey World League semi-finals and the European tour.
India continued to dominate possession and infiltrate the Japanese defence. It is early days but its seems that the coach likes playing to the team’s strengths: Quick passing and using pace to get behind the opposition defence.
SV Sunil’ s opening goal for India was a prime example of India’s lethal and effective counter-attack as well. Along with Akashdeep Singh, the duo outran the Japanese defenders to score the goal. Sunil received the ball in India’s half and passed it on to Akashdeep who made a deep run with it. Meanwhile, Sunil ran behind the Japanese defenders and then received a through pass from Akashdeep. With only the goalkeeper to beat, Sunil made no mistake to slot the ball into the net.
India’s second goal was also exquisite as a long ball from captain Harmanpreet Singh to Lalit Upadhyay resulted in a stunner. Upadhyay received the ball inside the striking circle with a defender marking him. However, he made a quick turn and smashed the ball in the left side corner of the net. It was a dominating display to the say the least.
Harmanpreet stepping up
Harmanpreet Singh has the talent to be one of the best drag flickers in the sport. Against Japan, Singh slotted home two brilliant penalty corners to prove the point. In his first penalty corner he kept the ball low and it went under the goalkeeper’s leg to give India a 4-1 lead. His second goal was a touch of class as Varun Kumar received the ball only to deceive the Japanese players. He made a turn of almost 180 degrees towards Harmanpreet who then slotted the ball through the top left corner of the net.
Even with a two-goal cushion in the third quarter, he made sure that India did not become complacent at any point during the match. With his brace, he made sure that the match was beyond Japan’s reach.
Sardar’s deep role
Senior players Sardar Singh, SV Sunil and Akashdeep Singh made to starting XI of the team after a break that saw them miss the European tour. With Sunil upfront and Akashdeep assisting him, Sardar was seen at the defensive line, which was a surprise for many.
The otherwise versatile and flamboyant playmaker, who loves playing in the midfield, quietly went about dictating the flow of attacks. Along with Surender Kumar, Varun Kumar and Chinglensana Singh the Indian backline was sturdy and after the first goal fiasco, made sure that the mistake wasn’t repeated again.
With India set to take on Bangladesh on Friday, it will interesting to see whether India can repeat such a performance.