After a year of lockdown and several Covid incidents, the Indian men's hockey team marks a thumping return to the top-level of international hockey after defeating the Olympics champion Argentina in the two games of the FIH Pro Hockey League in Buenos Aires. While the first match turned out to be a closely fought encounter with 3-2 win in shootouts, India dominated Argentina in the second with a 3-0 win.
With the completion of the Argentina tour, India remains an unbeaten side at the FIH Pro League tie, after squaring off with the top teams in the world, including Netherlands (5-2 win, 3-3 draw), Belgium (2-1 win, 2-3 defeat) and Australia (3-4 defeat, 2-2 win on SO).
Goals from Harmanpreet Singh (11th minute), Lalit Upadhyay (25th) and Mandeep Singh (58th) on Sunday gave the visitors a deserved triumph over Los Leones, adding three more points to the two they had claimed against the hosts in Saturday's shoot-out, which earned them a bonus point.
By virtue of this win, India, with 15 points from eight games, climbed up to fourth place in the FIH Hockey Pro League standings, moving one point ahead of Australia having played the same number of games.
India, Argentina, and Australia will play against each other at the forthcoming Olympic Games, where they have been drawn in Pool A alongside Spain, New Zealand, and home favourites Japan. Argentina sit sixth in the FIH Hockey Pro League standings, with 11 points from 12 games.
India seems to have picked up the momentum right where they had left before the lockdown and with a strong balance of veterans and experienced bunch in the line-up, the Men in blue is will be oozing with confidence after a result like this.
PR Sreejesh, the custodian of goal in Indian men's hockey Team (Source: Hockey India)
One of the bright aspects of the Argentina tour was goalkeeping. PR Sreejesh, the ever-trustworthy custodian at the goal showed his calibers once again in the first game when Sreejesh came up with some breath-taking saves to fetch India a bonus point. He mattered the most during the shoot-out.
In the second match, Argentina started brightly and would have been ahead had it not been for some excellent saves from India goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak, who twice denied Martin Ferreiro.
India are happily reliant on its penalty corner battery comprising of HArmanpreet and Rupinder Pal Singh who have also shown their mettle with their significant conversion rate of the PCs. Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, these performances will give Graham Reid's men the motivation to go for the silverware at the Games, where it matters the most. It's been four decades, the Indian hockey sides haven't yielded any medal at the Olympics. However, ruling by the present performance, it seems the Indian side is leaving no stone unturned to achieve the glorious feat once again.
After two more practice matches with Argentina, India will next travel to Great Britain for the two-leg tie of FIH Hockey Pro League on 8 and 9 May.