The crowd in the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar waited more than one year to see their favourite hockey players back in action and they were treated to a brilliant show by the Indian men's hockey team on Saturday.
Led by Harmanpreet Singh's brace, India decimated Spain 4-1 in their opening game of the FIH Hockey Pro League 2023/24.
Apart from Harmanpreet, Jugraj Singh and Lalit Upadhyay scored a goal each to help India seal a good victory. At the same time, Spanish Captain Marc Miralles was the lone goalscorer for the visitors.
The fluidity displayed by the Indian team in their attacks and the tenacity in their defence painted a promising picture for the upcoming few months.
India had a near-perfect game with two goals from a drag flick, one from a penalty stroke, and an audacious no-look slap hit from Lalit Upadhyaya followed by incredible saves by both PR Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak.
It was vice-captain Hardik Singh's scintillating run from the right flank in the first quarter that won India's first penalty corner which was duly converted by Harmanpreet with an unstoppable low drag-flick.
Although Spain had better ball possession, India was disciplined in the defence. They did not allow the visitors to create spaces and ended the opening quarter with a narrow 1-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Spain created a couple of goalscoring opportunities and also had a penalty corner, but Indian goalie PR Sreejesh stood tall to deny visitors from equalising.
India immediately responded as they had as many as three back-to-back penalty corners, with the third one being rewarded into a penalty stroke. Harmanpreet once again stepped up and slotted the ball home with ease, making it 2-0 for the hosts in the 20th minute.
India rode on the momentum as they extended their lead through Jugraj's low drag-flick that went through Spanish goalie Luis Calzado's legs, making it 3-0 in the 24th minute.
Spain came out aggressively in the second half and earned a penalty stroke which was converted by skipper Marc Miralles in the 34th minute.
The latter phase of the third quarter saw some end-to-end action, with both teams looking for spaces inside each other's halves. India had their seventh penalty corner, but Jugraj's drag-flick was off target.
Spain came out all guns blazing in the final quarter. They were relentless in their pursuit and made dangerous runs inside, but the Indian defence led by Sreejesh kept the visitors away from the goal.
In the 50th minute, the Bhubaneswar crowd erupted as Lalit scored one of the most audacious goals by slapping Sukhjeet's pass into the Spainsh goal purely on instinct.
Spain tried their best in the last ten minutes but despite being one man down, Indian defence hold their fort tight to deny the visitors any chance.
More challenges await India as they take on the defending Champions the Netherlands in their second match on Sunday, 11th February.