n a better ‘finishing’ day, either of India or Australia could have won on the opening day of the Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar, but as things panned out at the Kalinga Stadium, it was a day of missed chances, in which the hosts managed to hold the defending champions to a 1-1 draw. India would rue the two clear chances missed by Gurjant Singh in the opening minutes of the match on Friday and the four penalty corners they squandered, but getting a point out of a tough campaign opener should be okay to stomach for coach Sjoerd Marijne and captain Manpreet Singh, who made his 200th international appearance.
Experienced striker Akashdeep Singh also had an off day missing on a number of scoring opportunities.
“We are not satisfied because we wanted to win,” India coach Marijne said after the match.
“In the beginning of any tournament, the first match is always difficult; but I was really happy because we created chances in the beginning of the match. We had two big opportunities. We played well in the first quarter and we need to continue like that. I am also happy with our performance in the fourth quarter,” he added.
The two goals in the match came in the second quarter in back-to-back minutes. First, brilliant triangular long-range passing between Manpreet, Lalit Upadhyay and Mandeep Singh helped India go 1-0 up in the 20th minute, as Mandeep finished a brilliant move.
Jeremy Hayward equalised for the visitors the very next minute (21st), beating goalkeeper Akash Chikte to his right with a grounded flick off the second Aussie penalty corner. But they too squandered five of their six PCs to let scoring opportunities slip.
Rupinder Pal Singh, who is coming off an injury layoff, looked rusty with his dragflicks; but that is understandable for someone who hasn’t been in match situation for five months.
“Hockey is a team game and mistakes are part and parcel of it. We can’t blame anyone for missing goals. At least Gurjant tried his best; that’s why he got those chances,” said Manpreet at the post-match press conference.