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Asian Champions Trophy: India cruise past China as tougher challenges await | Hockey

It was never really going to be much of a challenge. The lowest-ranked team in the tournament (world No.25), returning to international competition after a long break, facing Olympic bronze medallists first up, China were completely outplayed by the hosts as the Indian men’s hockey team got off to a flying start with a 7-2 victory in their Asian Champions Trophy opener.

Players of the Indian men's hockey team (blue) after winning a match against China during Asian Champions Trophy 2023(PTI)
Players of the Indian men’s hockey team (blue) after winning a match against China during Asian Champions Trophy 2023(PTI)

The picture was clear by the end of the first quarter of where the match was heading as the Harmanpreet Singh-led outfit were 3-0 up, showcasing their dominance against China, who clearly struggled by the end of the contest with the heat and humidity taking its toll on the young team with many of the players suffering cramps in the last quarter.

The Indian players on the other hand got a solid shots-on-goal practice with 25 attempts out of which seven were converted. Skipper Harmanpreet Singh (5th, 8th) and Varun Kumar (19th, 30th) scored a brace each while Sukhjeet Singh (15th), Akashdeep Singh (17th) and Mandeep Singh (40th) — who scored his 100th international goal in his 211th appearance for India. E Wenhui (18th) and Jiesheng Gao (25th) were the scorers for China.

The first match between the two teams in seven years – last time India won 9-0 in the 2016 edition of the tourney – was also Amit Rohidas’s 150 and Sumit’s 100th international appearance.

Following chief coach Craig Fulton’s strategy, India pressed hard from the start to push China deep into their half. Player of the contest and former India skipper Manpreet Singh was brilliant in creating several balls for the forward line, resulting in several penalty corners (PC). Carrying forward his Pro League form where he emerged as the top scorer of the long tourney, Harmanpreet wasted no time as he converted two chances in the first eight minutes to put India 2-0 ahead.

China goalkeeper Weihao Wang had to deal with more Indian attempts – India made 31 circle penetrations to China’s four — as the Chinese defence started cracking under Indian press and pressure. One such opportunity helped Sukhjeet score his first via a rebound during a PC at the end of the first quarter.

Akashdeep picked up the momentum immediately in the second quarter as a superb ball from Manpreet was taken at the first touch. Akash evaded two defenders to score his first and India’s fourth.

Four goals up and complacency set in as Sumit, playing his 100th match for India, made a foul. Wenhui single-handedly ran from mid-pitch and pounced on the chance to score China’s first goal against India in 10 years when China last beat India (2-0) at the 2013 edition of the tournament.

Varun made amends when he converted a PC in the next minute to put 5-1 ahead but China was slowly gaining confidence in the contest. That was manifested when Gao scored a fantastic goal by drag-flicking into the top right, beyond Krishan Bahadur Pathak in the goal.

Varun noticed that the Chinese goalkeepers were weak on their left with India’s PC goals coming in that zone. He got another PC goal in the area in the final minute of the first half to put his team 6-2.

Fulton was clearly unhappy that India took the foot off the pedal in the second quarter while China were there to sting at the opportunity. The South African made sure India maintained their structure despite the lapses with Mandeep scoring via a deflection during a PC.

The heat and humidity eventually started taking its toll on the Chinese outfit. India, too, started playing at half pace, trying some over-the-top flamboyant reverse flicks which easily missed the goal, maintaining the same scoreline as the hosts will face reigning Asian Games champions Japan on Friday.

Earlier in the day, holders South Korea edged past Japan 2-1 in what was a repeat of the last edition’s final in Dhaka 2021. While Park Cheoleon (26th) and Kim Jung Hoo (35th) scored for the winners, Ooka Ryoma (6th) scored for Japan. In the other match of the day, Malaysia earned a facile 3-1 victory against Pakistan with Ashari Firhan (28th, 29th) and Silverius Shello (44th) scoring for the winners. Abdul Rehman (55th) scored Pakistan’s lone goal.

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