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Indian men’s hockey team starts its Olympic campaign on a winning note in Tokyo

India now take on World No 1 Australia in their next Pool-A encounter

Eight times Olympic gold medallists India got their 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games campaign off to a winning start by edging past a gritty New Zealand team, claiming a 3-2 triumph at the Oi Hockey Stadium today.  

Kane Russell put the Black Sticks ahead with a penalty corner before Rupinder Pal Singh tied the scores from the penalty spot. Penalty corner goals either side of half time from Harmanpreet Singh established a 3-1 lead for India, although Stephen Jenness's field goal set up a tense final quarter.

However, thanks to some brilliant saves made by goalkeeper PR Sreejesh in the fourth quarter, India held on for victory and will now take on World No 1 Australia in their next Pool-A encounter.
"Winning three points in a competition like the Olympic Games is really important", said India head coach Graham Reid. "I think we had a good second and third quarter but the first and fourth we struggled a little bit. When we watch the video later today, we will be able to find out what we need to get better at and surely there are going to be things we learn from today too," the coach told FIH.

It has been over 40 years since India men claimed the most recent of their incredible eight Olympic hockey gold medals. However, their superb form in recent times makes them serious contenders to claim a ninth title at the upcoming event in Tokyo. The team has claimed victories against nearly all the top teams in world hockey over the past couple of years, with Australian head coach Graham Reid getting the best out of a talented and exceptionally fit collection of athletes.

In three other matches that took place in the men's hockey competition on Saturday morning, Australia and Belgium recorded wins in their opening matches while reigning Olympic champions Argentina settled for a 1-1 draw against Spain.

Australia made a winning start to their quest for a second men’s hockey Olympic gold medal with a 5-3 victory over hosts Japan, but were given a real scare by the Samurais in a pulsating opening match at the Oi Hockey Stadium. Tim Brand and Tom Craig put the Kookaburras into a 2-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but a double from Kenta Tanaka either side of a strike from Yoshiki Kirishita gave Japan a shock 3-2 lead at half time. However, Australia controlled the third and fourth quarters, with Blake Govers, Aran Zalewski Daniel Beale all on target as the world number one ranked side claimed all three points.  

"Obviously we wanted to do a bit better”, said Australia’s Daniel Beale. “We go 2-0 up, then go 3-2 down going into half-time (which) is obviously not what we want to do. So it was really good that we were able to come out after half-time and get back to what we were doing well and just get the result."

Japan’s Kenta Tanaka said: "We were close to overtaking the Australian team in the heat of the match but in the end we lost so there is a bit of regret. But we have to take this momentum to the next match. Scoring two goals gives me a huge amount of confidence."

Reigning Olympic champions Argentina could only claim a solitary point were held to a 1-1 draw by Spain. Los Leones took the lead midway through the second quarter thanks to Agustin Mazzilli’s field goal. Fascinatingly, Mazzilli scored Argentina’s last goal in Olympic competition, netting Argentina’s fourth against Belgium in the Rio 2016 final. However, Argentina could not add to their tally and Spain, who were competitive throughout, claimed a crucial point when Pau Quemada rattled home a penalty corner eight minutes from full time.

In a men’s Pool-B match, Alexander Hendrickx scored a four-minute hat-trick to help reigning World champions Belgium fight back from a goal down to beat Low Countries rivals the Netherlands 3-1 in the opening match of Pool B. Following a quiet opening two periods, Jeroen Hertzberger scored a wonderful individual effort to put the Oranje ahead early in the third quarter, but it was Hendrickx who would have the final say in the outcome. Hendrickx netted two outstanding penalty corners either side of a penalty stroke as Belgium made a clear statement of intent with a hard-earned victory.

When asked how he feels about being considered as one of the best drag-flickers in the world, Hendrickx said: “I don’t think about that, what others think, I’m busy with what I do with my technique with flicking, thinking about something during the flick and then all the pressure falls away."

Netherlands captain Billy Bakker said: "It’s not the result that we want, but it’s also not the way we want to perform as a team and that’s more something that we’re not really disappointed (about), but we need to be more focused on our own quality.”

The action at the Oi Hockey Stadium continues this evening with a further four matches. In Men’s Pool B, Great Britain take on South Africa whilst Canada face Germany. There are also two matches in Pool A of the women’s competition as reigning World, European and FIH Hockey Pro League champions the Netherlands take on India and Olympic debutants Ireland play South Africa.

The hockey competitions at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 feature 12 teams, split into two pools of six ahead of quarter-finals, semi-finals and medal matches.