India swept aside China in their opening game of the Asian Champions Trophy men's hockey tournament in Chennai, on Thursday.
India's goals came from varied sources. There were penalty corner dragflicks from Harmanpreet Singh (x2) and Varun Kumar (x2), a rebound from a saved PC by Sukhjeet Singh, a superb finish by Mandeep Singh off a PC-assist variation and pacy counterattack started and finished by Akashdeep Singh.
China had two very good goals of their own -- a solo effort by E Wenhui and arguably the best PC dragflick of the day from Jiesheng Gao - but it was too little to make a dent on India's performance. The concession of the goals, though, did draw some criticism from the India coach Peter Fulton at half-time who said, "we conceded two soft goals, in my opinion".
The India-China game was the third of the day after South Korea beat Japan 2-1 in a bruising encounter under the Chennai afternoon sun and Malaysia eased past Pakistan 3-1. Pakistan had dominated for vast swathes of the match, but Malaysia's far superior finishing ability saw them through.
Meanwhile, in the match the home crowd had been waiting for, their team started the goalscoring early on. In the fourth minute, local boy Selvam Karthi won a penalty corner (because his defender was not far enough away as he trapped a long ball), and captain Harmanpreet blootered one low and hard past the goalkeeper.
Less than three minutes later, veteran Manpreet Singh drove into the circle and got stick-checked. Again, Harmanpreet stepped up and smashed a draglick to the left of the keeper (just past the man on the post). It was all India by this point and that's how it continued all quarter - with Sukhjeet forcing a save from open-play and both Harmanpreet and Amit Rohidas having PC flicks well saved.
In the last minute of the quarter, India won another PC after a stick check on Karthi in the circle. Varun Kumar's initial flick was saved but as the rebound was hit back, Sukhjeet cleverly deflected it into the net through his legs, with his back to goal. 3-0 after Q1 and the crowd knew the game was done.
This was reflected in the decreasing decibel levels each quarter as India continued to assert their dominance: In the very first minute of the second quarter Akashdeep picked up the ball deep in midfield and set off on a pacy run. He played a quick one-two with Manpreet at the edge of the circle before calmly stroking in the only field goal of the game. From start to finish, that had been a class move.
China fought back briefly - mostly fuelled by moments of individual magic. Wenhui opened the scoring for China after he trapped a long ball behind the defence brilliantly, dropped a shoulder to rip past Jugraj Singh and slipped his finish casually under the advancing Krishan Pathak. That was the first time the crowd had seen an Indian goalkeeper forced into action all game. With five minutes to go in the quarter China scored their second after Jiesheng Gao smacked an unstoppable draglick past Pathak and into the top right corner of the goal.
In between those two goals, though, Varun Kumar had made it five for India with a powerful flick into the bottom corner (similar area to Harmanpreet's finishes) after Shamsher's running had won India the PC. Varun then made it six late on in the quarter after yet another Shamsher dribble won India a PC, with a flick into the same area of the net.
India took that comfortable 6-2 lead into halftime and although they added to it late in the third quarter (Amit Rohidas teeing up Mandeep Singh to finish into the roof from close range off a well-worked PC variation) , the game petered to a close as India kept China comfortably at bay.
India next play on Friday (Aug 4) when they take on Japan at 8.30 PM IST.