The India men’s hockey team emerged victorious with a 4-2 win against Russia in the first of the two FIH Hockey Olympics Qualifiers matches but it wasn’t before the 22nd-ranked side in the world sent a few scares down the opposition’s camp. Harmanpreet Singh’s conversion of a penalty corner in the fifth minute was negated by Andrey Kuraev’s field goal and it wasn’t until the final 15 minutes that India got a cushion with SV Sunil and Mandeep to put India further ahead.
India were on the attack from the very first whistle. After an early save from PR Sreejesh and a close chance by Manpreet, India registered themselves on the scoreboard as the captain won a referral and Harmanpreet converted it into a fifth-minute goal. In the ninth minute, Russia won their first penalty corner but couldn’t capitalise, although they didn’t have to wait long for the equaliser.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Indian defence was caught napping as Kuraev slotted an perfect angle beating Sreejesh for Russia’s first goal of the evening. Russia piled pressure going full throttle towards India’s goal and nearly took a lead before an alert Indian defence prevented it.
India, clearly under a bit of pressure put their act together through Mandeep’s first goal, a reverse flick finding the mark as the ball went into the bottom left corner of the net. At the half-time, India were ahead 2-1, and needed some protection, but Russia began making the Indian defence look shaky. India were awarded a penalty corner before Russia referred it successfully as an exciting third quarter came to a close.
The final 15 minutes is where India decided to put the game beyond conclusion. In the 48th minute, Nilakanta Sharma produced an impressive run, which was finished well by Sunil just outside the net. With 10 minutes to go for the final whistle, Mandeep made the most of India’s brilliant passing and control, attacking the Russian goal, with a wonderful touch to give India a three-goal advantage.
Russia were awarded back-to-back PCs but neither was converted. Less than 20 seconds remained when Semen Matkovskiy’s drag flick whisked past Krishan Pathak. India went for a final hurrah but the goalkeeper denied India a fifth goal.