A structured defence and clinical attack saw the Indian men's hockey team beat hosts New Zealand 3-1 in the final round robin match in the double-leg Four Nations Invitational Tournament here at Blake Park on Saturday.
It was India's young brigade Harmanpreet Singh (2'), Dilpreet Singh (12') and Mandeep Singh (47') who scored in India's win after the team had suffered a 0-2 loss against Belgium in their previous match.
India's first breakthrough came as early as in the second minute of the match when a circled entry fetched them a penalty corner created by Mandeep Singh.
It was Harmanpreet Singh who stepped up for the drag flick and he was impeccable and fierce as he improvised the injection to flick the ball past New Zealand goalkeeper Richard Joyce and earn India 1-0 lead. The early goal undoubtedly puts the Black Sticks on the backfoot.
The next few minutes saw India hold their defence with Rupinder Pal Singh, who was rested for the match against Belgium, leading the charge of defenders as their man-to-man marking was spot on, not allowing New Zealand to make easy forays into India's circle.
India colt Dilpreet Singh, who had scored two goals in his first outing for the national side, was impressive when he picked up the assist to put the ball past the New Zealand goal post in the 21st minute taking India's lead to a comfortable 2-0.
India held on to the lead with a well-rounded performance. Though India conceded a penalty corner in the 42nd minute which was well-executed by New Zealand's Kane Russell, India didn't drop their momentum and continued their attack swiftly and tactically. In the 47th minute, Mandeep Singh was excellent in the circle to score an impressive goal to earn India a winning score-line of 3-1.
"We started the match much better today and I saw individual improvement. It's important for the players to keep pushing themselves. I am particularly happy about today's win because the team did a lot of analyzing ahead of the match and their keenness to improve was evident in today's match," expressed Chief Coach Sjoerd Marijne after the match.
On his thoughts about playing Belgium in the finals, the 43-year-old Dutchman said, "This tournament is about improving our play and we already played a good match against a full-strength Belgium side so the Final will be challenging too. But every match, this team has shown progress and have gotten better with the performance so in the Final too we can expect a close contest."
India will be up against Belgium, who beat Japan 4-1, in the finals on Sunday.