Thursday, July 31, 2014

Sizzling India outclass South Africa 5-2

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian men’s hockey team must have sprung a surprise of some magnitude when they threw a serious challenge to the world champions Australia before finishing second best. If not a win, the effort of the Terry Walsh-coached side in that game definitely made many other teams sit up and take notice of them.  And on Thursday, India seemed to take off from they left off against Australia scripting an impressive 5-2 win over South Africa at the National Hockey Center in Glasgow to storm into the semifinals.

Of course, the Sardar Singh-led let their foot off the accelerator in the second half, but it cannot be denied that the team was teeming with confidence after their resolute and ‘respectable’ defeat against the Kookaburras. One can see the soaring confidence of the Yellowshirts when Vokkaliga Raghunath fired home India’s first penalty corner in only the 3rd minute of play. Hardly had the 12th ranked South Africans settled into any kind of rhythm, Rupinder Pal Singh made the scoreline 2-0, making the most of a short corner, exuding the impression that India’s PC conversion rate is on the upswing.

India consistently attacked from the right flank and their moves fructified when Ramandeep Singh, who scored a fine goal against Australia, netted the third goal after being fed up by Akashdeep Singh in the 22nd minute. SV Sunil, who had a poor World Cup, scored the fourth goal in the 28th minute – again a move from the right after Nikin Thimmaih set it up.

South Africa did not know how to respond to India’s onslaught and seemed resigned to their fate as they trailed 0-4 at half-time. The half-time pep talk from the South African coach seemed to work as they were a transformed side in the second half.

The green-and-yellow brigade made India work hard for ball possession and started to create cracks in the Indian defence, scoring two quick goals in the 45th and 47th minutes to raise visions of an even contest.

India did not left anything to chance and midfielder Manpreet Singh came up with a superb goal tumbling in front of the South Africa citadel in the 57th minute to ensure their opponents only needed to go through the motions.

The match was marred by rough play as both umpires flashed yellow cards on a regular basis. Indian captain Sardar Singh was yellow-carded for a nasty challenge on a South African player as his team closed out the final six minutes of play with him in the sin box. The result was never in doubt, especially after India scored the fifth goal as a 4-2 lead in modern hockey can be too close for comfort.

India will now back themselves to dish out a similar performance against 6th ranked New Zealand in the semifinals on Saturday.

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Memories of India’s 0-8 defeat to Australia in the 2010 Commonwealth Games final

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

There was a time when the Indian men’s hockey team used to imbibe the knack of inflicting heavy defeats on opponents – the most ‘famous’ being the whopping 24-1 win over USA in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. The highs of Indian hockey were gradually replaced by mediocrity and despair as our national team started getting beaten by lesser nations in international competitions before they began to get a dose of their own medicine (losing by big margins).

Over the years, there have been quite a few occasions when the Indian men’s hockey team were taken to the cleaners. Given the fierce India-Pakistan rivalry hockey fans tend to remember the 7-1 defeat suffered by our team in the final showdown of the 1982 Delhi Asian Games, but nothing will probably beat India’s humiliating 0-8 defeat to Australia in the final of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games – it was in fact, India’s heaviest defeat in international hockey.

The fact that the heavy defeat on October 14, 2010 came in their own backyard left a bitter taste in the mouths of their hockey fans. Former Indian captain Rajpal Singh, who led the national team in the New Delhi Commonwealth Games final against Australia, recalls that big defeat.

“To be honest, we are not prepared to lose by such a huge margin. It is difficult to point out what went wrong that day – it will be unfair to say our defence failed or our goalkeeper played poorly – I thought it was a collective failure of the team.”

Australia did not score any goals in the first fifteen minutes of play before the Kookaburras started the goal-glut through Jason Wilson in the 19th minute and scored three more in the next fifteen minutes to lead 4-0 at half-time and scored four more in the second half.

“We did not concede any goals in the first eighteen minutes before Australia got two goals from Jason Wilson and penalty corner goals from Luke Doerner and Chris Ciriello. We were playing half court press and the match was literally out of our grasp when we trailed 0-4 at half-time,” Rajpal reminisces.

Aussies were surprised with the win

Australia have never lost to India in Commonwealth Games and the 8-0 title win was their fourth win on the trot. Interestingly, India had faced Australia in the league phase of that 2010 CWG and had lost by a 2-5 margin. The big win even surprised the Aussies. “Even the Australian players told us after the match that they were not expecting to win by such a big margin. Australia got about 9-10 scoring chances in that game and they converted eight of them,” remembers Rajpal, who last played for India at the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy in Ordos, China,where he led the national team to glory.

All said and done, that heavy defeat will be always something Indian hockey fans would not like to remember!

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fighting Indian hockey eves lose 2-3 to South Africa, bow out of semifinals

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian women hockey team’s hopes of qualifying for the semifinals went up in smoke when they went down fighting to South Africa 2-3 at the National Hockey Center in Glasgow. The 13th ranked Indian eves, desperately needing a win to be in the semifinal race were put on the backfoot when the 11th ranked South Africans took the lead with a penalty corner goal from Tarryn Bright in the 14th minute.

The Indian defence foiled South Africa’s second PC opportunity in the 28th minute before the Ritu Rani-led side gave themselves a glimmer of hope when Jaspreet Kaur converted a penalty stroke. But the South Africa pulled ahead close to half-time through Dirkie Chamberlain to enjoy the psychological advantage. Goalkeeper Savita was in great form as she kept thwarting the South African raids on a regular basis.

India needed a robust finish in the second half, but South Africa held firm, and seemed to have put the issue beyond their opponents when Illse Davids made the scoreline 3-1 in the 55th minute.

India were in no mood to throw in the towel as Rani Rampal reduced the deficit making the most of a penalty corner to throw the contest wide open. India wasted two short corner opportunities in the final ten minutes in a bid to level the issue as the South Africa defence came under pressure. But those misses proved to be their undoing for India as they failed to make the semifinals.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Resolute India lose 2-4 to Australia

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

It was always going to be a tough ask matching the world champions Australia, but much to our surprise the Terry Walsh-coached Indian outfit exuded plenty of resolve, especially in defence holding their much superior opponents goalless in the first fifteen minutes of play. But it did not take the Kookaburras to hit their straps as they surged ahead in the 16th minute through a Chris Ciriello penalty corner goal. Like it happens in most Australia games, one goal leads to another and it exactly happened that way when Simon Orchard made it 2-0 in the 19th minute.

India had their best chance to score when Ramandeep Singh messed it up when he only had the Aussie goalie Andrew Charter to beat. A cardinal Rupinder Pal Singh defensive gaffe allowed Jacon Whetton to score the third goal in the 28th minute.

Rupinder made amends later when he converted India’s second short corner on the stroke of half-time after wasting the first one with the Sardar Singh-led side getting the much-needed lift close to the break.

India asked more questions the Australian defence in the second half and they were rewarded when Ramandeep Singh atoned for his first-half blemish, making the scoreline 3-2.

The Kookaburras widened the gap when Chris Ciriello made it 4-2 converting a penalty stroke, beating the defences of PR Sreejesh, who had an outstanding day coming up with a string of superb saves. The Indian shot stopper kept out all PCs of Australia in the second half and was to some extent responsible for his side staying competitive.

India now play South Africa in their final league game on July 31 – a draw over them should be enough to reach the semifinals.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Indian hockey eves drub Trinidad & Tobago 14-0

It won’t be unfair to suggest that Trinidad & Tobago had become one of the ‘whipping boys’ of the women’s hockey competition of the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Leaking 34 goals in three games, the Redskirts were not expected to throw a serious challenge to the Indians, who were determined to put as many as goals as possible in a bid to on par as far as goal average is concerned with New Zealand and South Africa.

The Indian eves would believe they had done what they set out to do as they clobbered Trinidad & Tobago 14-0 in their third league game – their second win at the Glasgow National Hockey Center leaving them with the prospect of beating South Africa in their final league tie to push for a semifinal spot.

India opened the account in the 4th minute off their first penalty corner when Vandana Katariya deflected home a Jaspreet Kaur drag-flick. Deepika Thakur made in 2-0 in the 12th minute unleashing a rasping shot from the top of the striking circle and a minute later, she set up Rani Rampal with a defence-splitting pass.

Jaspreet Kaur finally got a direct drag-flick off India’s fourth penalty corner in the 18th minute and a minute later Rani Rampal scored her second – the team’s fifth. Skipper Ritu Rani, who ejected India’s fifth short corner, was on hand to tap home a Jaspreet Kaur drag-flick following a goalmouth melee. Rani Rampal completed her hat-trick off India’s sixth short corner as India were sitting pretty with a 7-0 lead. Deepika Thakur and Anuradha Dev piled on more misery for Trinidad & Tobago as India led 9-0 at half-time.

Young forwards Ritusha Arya and Anupa Barla also got their names on the scoresheet before Jaspreet Kaur and Deepika Thakur wrapped up their hat-tricks in India’s whopping 14-0 win.
India had earlier beaten Canada 4- 2 and lost to New Zealand 0-3.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014

Indian eves lose 0-3 to much superior New Zealand

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

New Zealand were always the overwhelming favourties going into the match against India. The 13th ranked Indians were expected to find the going tough against the 4th ranked Black Sticks and it did showed when they leaked an early penalty corner goal by Gemma Flynn.

The Neil Hawgood-coached were perturbed by the early goal but the tactical superiority of New Zealand was amply evident. The Black Sticks ran circles around the Indian defence, but the Ritu Rani-led side soaked up whatever their opponents threw at them, especially in their first half before giving it away in the second half.

Indian eves struggled to make any incisive raid in the New Zealand ‘D’ in the first half, who nearly doubled the lead close to half-time when Kirandeep Kaur foiled a menacing raid from the left. The Black Sticks led 1-0 at the break.

Crossing over, India raided the New Zealand ‘D’ and Vandana Katariya had a great opportunity to drew level but messed it up. New Zealand consolidated their position when Anita Punt converted their third penalty corner in the 45th minute. Pune converted a penalty stroke later to put the issue beyond India.

Talented Rani Rampal along with rest of the Indian forwardline were stifled by the tenacious New Zealand defence as they were not allowed to show their individual flair and make use of open spaces. India failed to engineer a single penalty corner, which just shows how ineffective their forwardline was.

India plays Trinidad & Tobago in their third league game on Monday. They need a big win on Monday to harbor hopes of a semifinal berth.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Resurgent India cut hosts Scotland to size

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Indian men’s hockey team lacked conviction in their opening 3-1 win over 31st ranked Wales on Friday, but on Saturday, they exuded steely resolve showing marked improvement to outclass hosts Scotland 6-2 at the Glasgow National Hockey Center in Glasgow.

The Terry Walsh-coached side were set up in their way by talented and vastly experienced Gurbaj Singh, who darted down the right and slotted home even as the ball rolled over deflecting off the Scottish goalkeeper. India wasted their first penalty corner, but atoned for that when Vokkaliga

Raghunath fired home in the 22nd minute. The 25th ranked Scotts negated two PC opportunities of India and even forced one PC in the latter stages of the first half, but the latter held firm to go into the half-time break with a 2-0 lead.

India attacked with more vigour in the second half and struck thrice in the first ten minutes of play. Rupinder Pal Singh unleashed a fierce drag-flick in the 37th minute before comeback man Gurwinder Singh Chandi scored a brilliant deflection goal in the 41st minute. Vokkaliga Raghunath struck his second and his team’s fifth in the 45th minute to turn the contest into a one-sided affair.

The goal-hungry Indians made it 6-0 in the 51st minute when Rupinder Pal Singh converted India’s seventh penalty corner – their fourth conversion to trigger more excitement among the Indian supporters. The home crowd created a fair amount of pressure in the closing stages and scored twice through Kerry Bain and Nicholas Parkes, but India’s superiority was never in doubt.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Commonwealth Games: Indian men overcome sloppy start to humble Wales 3-1

The Indian men’s hockey team overcame a sloppy first-half performance to outwit Wales 3-1 in their opening match of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the Glasgow National Hockey Center in Glasgow on Friday. The Terry Walsh-coached side were not allowed to play their natural game in the early exchanges by the tournament’s lowest ranked side, as the match was bereft of high-octane action.

The Terry Walsh-side, which beat 5th ranked England 3-2 and lost narrowly to 6th ranked New Zealand 2-3 in the pre-tournament warm-ups, frittered away an opportunity off their first penalty corner when Vokkaliga Raghunath’s fierce drag-flick grazed the post. To be fair, itt wasn’t exactly one-way traffic as Wales did find their way in the Indian ‘D’ and forced their first short corner in the 9th minute but failed to profit from it as PR Sreejesh came to the team’s rescue.

India finally got themselves on the scoresheet when Vokkaliga Raghunath converted their second PC - the Coorg lad, making amends for the earlier PC slip-up after the set-piece was engineered by Nikkin Thimmaiah. Wales did not allow India to enjoy the one-goal lead for long as they evened things up a few minutes later with a nice tap-in from A Cornick.

There was no lack of intent from India, but the moves lacked conviction – the 9th ranked side muffed up another PC opportunity on the stroke of half-time as both teams were tied 1-1. Rupinder Pal Singh converted India’s fifth PC after missing one earlier to pull India ahead. Comeback man Gurwinder Singh Chandi – one of the five survivors of the 2010 CWG squad – slotted home from close range to make it 3-1.

This was India’s second consecutive win over Wales in Commonwealth Games – they had beaten the same opponents 6-3 in the 1998 Bangkok edition when field hockey was introduced for the first time.
India will now play hosts and 25th ranked Scotland in their second game on Saturday.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Commonwealth Games: India hockey eves brush aside Canada 4-2

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The Indian women’s hockey team launched their Commonwealth Games campaign on a rousing note, brushing aside the challenge of Canada 4-2 to log full points at the Glasgow National Hockey Center on Thursday.

The 13th ranked Indian eves, who finished a disappointing fifth in their own backyard in the 2010 edition, took time to settle down even as the 22nd ranked Canadians looked to wrest the initiative early on. The Indian forwardline grew in confidence as the match wore on as Vandana Katariya, playing in her 100th international match, exuded oodles of energy, and was literally seen all over the pitch. It was her move down the right that set up talented Rani Rampal, whose reverse tap-in breached the Canadian citadel amid a goalmouth melee.

The opening goal came as a huge sigh of relief for the Neil Hawgood-coach side, which had earlier wasted two penalty corners. The Indian first goal joy was short-lived as Canada levelled things three minutes later, but India profited from their third short corner when Poonam Rani slotted home from close on the stroke of half-time. India led 2-1 at the break.

India’s penalty corner expert Jaspreet Kaur then made a statement in the second half, firing home a drag-flick off their fourth penalty corner in the second half to give their side a cozy 3-1 lead, which was narrowed down when Canada hit back. It was left to Jaspreet to nail in her second PC goal from the team’s fifth penalty corner as India scripted a 4-2 win – it was India’s second win on the trot against Canada in Commonwealth Games, having beaten them 1-0 in the 2002 Manchester edition.

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Commonwealth Games: Indian men lock horns with minnows Wales

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The so-called ‘easy games’ in tournament openers are ideal to set the tone for the team and seemingly, the Sardar Singh-led Indian senior men’s hockey team will seek to make the most of it when they take on minnows Wales in the 2014 Commonwealth Games at the Glasgow National Hockey Center in Glasgow on Friday.

The 31st ranked Wales – the lowest ranked side in the competition – is unlikely to show serious signs of stringing an upset win over the 9th ranked Indians, who appeared to have hit the straps after dishing out an impressive display in the couple of warm-up games against higher ranked sides. The Terry Walsh-side can take heart from their 3-2 win over 5th ranked England and a narrow 2-3 loss to 6th ranked New Zealand in the pre-tournament warm-ups.

Sardar Singh – touted as the world’s best centre-half – will look to marshal his troops on the pitch and count on the experience of goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, midfielder Gurbaj Singh, as well as the troika of forwards – Dharamvir Singh, Danish Mujtaba and Gurvinder Singh Chandi – five survivors of the 2010 CWG squad.

India have faced Wales only once in the 1998 Kuala Lumpur CWG and thumped them 6-3. Given the recent form of India, the team can expect nothing more than a stroll in the park on Friday. They key to India’s success will be how the forwardline, which is boosted by the return of Gurwinder Singh Chandi, functions. When on song, Chandi alongside Dharamvir (scored four goals in the 2010 edition), SV Sunil, Danish Mujtaba can form a lethal combo with young turks Ramandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Nikkin Thimmaiah providing support.

Indian midfield wears a robust look with Sardar and Gurbaj forming a fulcrum alongside Birendra Lakra and Manpreet Singh. Goalkeeper Sreejesh will seek to continue his good run in the recent World Cup in Glasgow.

A decent win is imperative for India as they have to counter the likes of 12th ranked South Africa and top-ranked Australia in other group games to secure a semifinal passage and beyond.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Former national coach Sukhvir Singh Grewal appointed North Zone High Performance Manager

Hockey India today announced the appointment of former national coach Mr. Sukhvir Singh Grewal as its North Zone High Performance Manager. The move is in line with HI’s strategy to develop hockey at the grassroots level. It may be worth recalling that Hockey India had appointed Olympian and former Indian captain Vasudevan Bhaskaran as its South Zone High Performance Manager.

Grewal, who served as Indian men’s team coach from 1987 to 1992,  will take charge on August 1, 2014, with the North Zone comprising Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Chandigarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. He had also served as coach for the Indian team at the 1978 World Cup and 1978Asian Games. Grewal was also assistant coach of the Indian team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. He has also worked with Punjab Government as an Incharge of Hockey Development from 2005 to 2013.

Hockey India shall appoint similar High Performance Manages for Central, East and West zone soon. All the five HPMs will work under Hockey India High Performance Director Roelant Oltmans.

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Commonwealth Games: India hockey eves face Canada in tournament opener

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

The Ritu Rani-led Indian women’s hockey team should have it easy against Canada in their opening Pool A match of the Commonwealth Games at the Glasgow National Hockey Center in Glasgow on Thursday.

No complacency please
The 13th ranked Indian eves should not encounter serious resistance from the 22nd ranked Canadians, but would be better off in not letting any complacency creep into their system just because they are up against a lower ranked outfit.
The Blueskirts’ fortunes would revolve around the vastly experienced midfielder and skipper Ritu Rani and talented forward Rani Rampal (both of whom were part of the side that finished fifth in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games).

Enterprising strike forceThe Indian forwardline wears an enterprising look with the likes of Poonam Rani, Vandana Katariya and Anupa Barla more than capable of rising to the occasion and playing the second fiddle to Rampal.
Captain Ritu will look to lend solidity to the midfield alongside Sushila Chanu, Navjot Kaur and Lilima Minz, while the likes of vice-captain Deep Grace Ekka, Namita Toppo and Kirandeep Kaur will bid to blunt the opposition raids.

Head-to-headIndia have faced Canada only once in Commonwealth Games and had beaten them 1-0 in the 2002 edition in Manchester. Indian eves will face New Zealand, South Africa and Trinidad and Tobago in their other league games.
Manchester glory

It may be worth recalling that the Indian eves had scripted history when they won the gold medal at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games beating England 3-2 in extra time in front of their home fans.

Indian women had finished fourth at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, where hockey was introduced for the first time. India had bagged the silver medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, losing to Australia by a solitary goal in the final showdown.

CWG Build-up
The Indians have warmed up nicely for the Commonwealth Games, whitewashing Malaysia 6-0 in a six Test series in Kuala Lumpur last month.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Savita; Defenders: Deep Grace Ekka, Deepika (vice-captain), Kirandeep Kaur, Namita Toppo, Jaspreet Kaur; Midfielders: Ritu Rani (captain), Sushila Chanu, Lilima Minz, Vandana Katariya, Navjot Kaur; Forwards: Rani,  Poonam Rani, Ritusha Arya, Anupa Barla and Anuradha Devi.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Commonwealth Games: Spirited India lose 2-3 to New Zealand in second practice game

The Indian senior men’s hockey team fought valiantly but lost 2-3 to 6th ranked New Zealand in their second and final practice game ahead of their Commonwealth Games campaign at the National Hockey Center in Glasgow. The 9th ranked Indians twice came back from behind to draw level but were done in by a Black Sticks match-winner four minutes from the final hooter.

Earlier, India had downed 5th ranked England 3-2 in their opening practice game. Akashdeep Singh, Vokkaliga Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh scored for India in that game.

India will launch their Commonwealth Games campaign against 31st ranked Wales – the lowest ranked team in the men’s competition – on July 25.

India are pitted in Pool A alongside Wales, Scotland, Australia and South Africa. India The Sardar Singh-led side then face 25th ranked Scotland the next day. The Blueshirts have a two-day rest before locking horns with reigning champions and world number one Australia on July 29. India will wind up their league engagements against 12th ranked South Africa on July 31.

The Pool B comprises 5th ranked England, 6th ranked New Zealand, 13th ranked Malaysia, 16th ranked Canada and 29th ranked Trinidad & Tobago.

It may be mentioned here that the Rajpal Singh-led Indians had finished runners-up in the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games, where they suffered a 0-8 humiliation at the hands of Australia in a ridiculously one-sided summit showdown.

India will be looking to build on their positives from their 9th place finish in the 2014 World Cup, where they toppled higher ranked Korea 3-0 in a classification tie.

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