Both the Netherlands and India men’s teams gave masterclasses in their particular styles of hockey in the first of a series of FIH Hockey Pro League matches taking place in Potchefstroom, South Africa. India tormented France with their free running and swift changes in the direction of attack, while the Dutch were the epitome of elegant, clinical and relentless hockey as they contained and then overwhelmed the ambitions of South Africa.
The national men’s team of India men hit the ground running in their first match of Season Three in the FIH Hockey Pro League. A cagey first quarter was followed by 45 minutes of creative, controlled and entertaining hockey that left France with few opportunities to open their own scoring account in their first FIH Pro League outing.
Head Coach Frederic Soyez explained ahead of the match that his team had only had limited time to prepare for their entry into the competition but his players were very aware that this is an invaluable learning opportunity ahead of a World Cup and a home Olympic Games (Paris 2024)
Certainly, the India side put on a masterclass in attacking hockey during this encounter. The damage was done in the second quarter. Harmanpreet Singh opened the scoring in the 21st minute with a beautifully taken penalty corner that evaded the outstretched foot of Arthur Thieffry in the France goal.
Thieffry had made some important saves prior to this moment and would go on to keep the ball out of the net on several more occasions.
Minutes later Varun Kumar also rattled the back of the goal with a fierce penalty corner strike. The scorer of the third goal, Shamsher Singh, was the beneficiary of a fabulous counter attack. The French team had pushed high and won a penalty corner, which the India defence cleared swiftly. Three passes later Kumar was able to pick his spot in the goal and give his team an unassailable lead.
Mandeep Singh scored the fourth in the 32nd minute and then Akashdeep Singh – who celebrated 200 caps for his country in this match – sealed the emphatic win with a well-taken goal following another speedy and clinical build-up by his team. Akashdeep’s performance earned him the Player of the Match award.
Speaking after the game, India captain Manpreet Singh said: ‘We are really happy because France are a good team and we knew we couldn’t give them any opportunities. In the first quarter we were a bit sloppy but after that we played a good game and scored goals. With that, we grew in confidence.’
The match was also noteworthy as it was the first FIH international men’s match that was umpired by two female umpires. Wanri Venter – who was also part of the first FIH Pro League match to have mixed gender umpires – took to the field with Annelize Rostron to take charge of the game.
In the second match, the Netherlands took advantage of a nervous start by South Africa to take the lead in the seventh minute when Tim Swaen slotted a penalty stroke past Siyavuya Nolutshungu.
South Africa rallied and the lightening speed of Dayaan Cassiem, Jethro Eustice and Nqobile Ntuli created all sorts of problems for the Dutch. The energy of the forward line paid off when Ntuli scored to bring the scores level.
If the first quarter was shared, then the second quarter was all about the Netherlands. Three goals – from captain Thierry Brinkman, Derck de Vilder and Player of the Match Thijs van Dam – put the game beyond South Africa’s reach.
A quieter third quarter saw just one goal – albeit in the 15th second after the restart – scored by Jorrit Croon. But a blistering and relentless final quarter saw six goals, including a beautifully shot hit on the run by Tijmen Reyenga, plus goals for Swaen, Brinkman, Koen Bijen and two for Jip Janssen.
Player of the Match Thijs van Dam (NED) said: ‘Today we played a really great match. We have been here 10 days already and we have trained hard and finally we can play some matches.’
Today’s results puts Netherlands at the top of the table, one point ahead of Belgium. India, with one win from one match sit in fourth place.
On Wednesday 9 February the FIH Hockey Pro League action continues with two further men’s matches. South Africa will face India and France will meet fellow European team the Netherlands.
FIH Hockey Pro League
Result: Tuesday 8 February 2022 – Potchefstroom (RSA)
Men’s FIH Hockey Pro League
France 0-5 India
Player of the Match: Akashdeep Singh (IND))
Umpires: Annelize Rostron (RSA), Wanri Venter (RSA) Sean Rapaport (RSA – video umpire)
South Africa 1-11 Netherlands
Player of the Match: Thijs van Dam (NED)
Umpires: Sean Rapaport (RSA), Ayden Shrives (RSA) Annalize Rostron (RSA – video umpire)
To see the complete FIH Hockey Pro League match schedule, please click here.