India up and running in Hockey World Cup, beat Spain 2-0
The 20,000-odd spectators who turned up at the Birsa Munda hockey stadium left the stands as a buzzing throng with the hosts clinching a convincing 2-0 win against a Spanish team that boasts of one of the world’s best defensive set-ups.
A deafening roar followed by fireworks. You could keep your eyes closed and yet know that Team India had won their 2023 Pool D opener against Spain as the hockey World Cup kicked off on Friday.
The 20,000-odd spectators who turned up at Odisha’s new jewel, the Birsa Munda hockey stadium, to witness what was expected to be a closely fought match between two top-eight teams, left the stands as a buzzing throng with the hosts clinching a convincing 2-0 win against a Spanish team that boasts of one of the world’s best defensive set-ups.
The delight of the capacity crowd was heightened by how their home town hero, Odisha’s own Amit Rohidas, who hails from Sundergarh district and learnt his craft at a hostel in Rourkela, handed India the lead in the 13th minute.
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India’s second penalty corner was slid in by captain and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh, but was blocked by Spanish goalie Adrian Rafi. Rohidas, who was later named Player of the Match, found the rebound and hammered in the goal to give India the lead. Rohidas’s goal was also India’s 200th in World Cup. The 100th was scored by Jude Felix during the 1990 World Cup in Lahore.
“To play a World Cup in one’s home and to score a goal in front of your own people is a feeling that cannot be described. If I say I am elated, that would be an understatement. This is my second World Cup at home after Bhubaneswar and I just came out thinking that I am going to soak in the vibe of the crowd and just enjoy myself,” said vice-captain Rohidas, whose family was in the stands.
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“We came out with a plan and executed it properly and were just focussed on the plans. I am very proud of the team, the way we played. We hope to continue playing the way we did today in the games ahead,” Rohidas added.
India’s second goal came in the 27th minute when midfielder Hardik Singh produced a goal for the ages when his single-handed, solo run from almost the centre of the pitch, dodging five Spanish players and the goalkeeper for the goal, which put the contest beyond the Spaniards.
Comfortably leading 2-0 at half-time, India did not slow down but upped the ante minutes into the third quarter when forward Akashdeep Singh helped win a penalty stroke. But Harmanpreet’s strike was stopped on the line by goalkeeper Rafi on the life.
Indian goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak, who alternated between the posts every quarter with PR Sreejesh, cleared three Spanish attempts during the match, and his solidity helped India maintain a clean slate though they were down to 10 men for a crucial 10-minute period in the final quarter.
On Sunday, India will face England, who beat neighbours Wales 5-0 in the other Pool D contest.