The Indian hockey teams – men and women – won their respective first legs of FIH Olympic Qualifiers on Friday at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar.
While the women’s crushed USA 5-1, the men’s team had to dig deep for a 4-2 win over minnows Russia later in the evening. Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju attended both the fixtures, hoping Indian hockey will return to its past glory.
“I have come here to cheer and encourage both the men’s and women’s hockey teams in their bid to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics. Hopefully, India will revive its lost glory in hockey,” Rijiju told reporters on Friday.
Dragflicker Gurjit Kaur (42nd and 51st) Lilima Minz (28th), Sharmila Devi (40th) and Navneet Kaur (46th) were goal scorers for India women while USA’s lone goal came via a penalty stroke converted by Erin Matson in the 54th minute.
The men’s team was expected to replicate the dominance of their women counterpart but looked rusty resulting in a below-par performance. Mandeep Singh (24th, 53rd minutes) scored twice while Harmanpreet Singh (5th) and SV Sunil (48th) struck a goal each. World no. 22 Russia have given India, ranked fifth, a stern warning of an upset with their spirited show in the first leg.
After India took a 1-0 lead through Harmanpreet Singh in the 5th minute but Andrey Kuraev equalised for the tourists in the second quarter. They came close to taking the lead but India held on to make it 4-1 before allowing their opponent an opening in the final minute of the match.
The second leg of both the qualifiers will be played on Saturday at the same venue.
Meanwhile, Rijiju says that it’s difficult to predict how many medals India will secure at the Tokyo Olympics next year but he’s confident the athletes will give their best shot at the quadrennial event. “Predicting number of medals is difficult but we will give our best shot in terms of preparation and performance,” he said.