Rio de Janeiro: Penalty corner specialist Rupinder Pal Singh scored a brace as India began their men’s hockey campaign in the Rio Olympics with a morale boosting 3-2 win against Ireland in their opening pool encounter here on Saturday.
Drag-flicker V.R. Raghunath scored India’s opener in the 15th minute, while Rupinder doubled the lead in the 27th minute in the Pool B match.
John Jermyn (45th) pulled one back for Ireland but Rupinder delighted the Indians with another successful penalty corner conversion.
Later, Conor Harte (55th) brought Ireland into contention but India saw off late nervous moments before winning 3-2.
The win must give relief to the Indians, who failed to win a single match in the London Olympics four years ago.
World No.5 India started the game on a positive note, making inroads from the right where vice-captain S.V. Sunil made his speedy runs. His couple of crosses were blocked by an agile Irish goalkeeper David Harte.
Ireland played an open game and it helped the Indian team in showing its counter-attacking prowess.
India’s midfield of Sardar Singh, Manpreet Singh and Danish Mujtaba overpowered the Irish midfield and India made successive penetrations late in the first quarter and it resulted in four penalty corners.
Raghunath and Rupinder failed to make the most of the first three chances. But Raghunath delivered in the 15th minute as he fired to the left low corner of the post and to the right of David Harte to give India a 1-0 lead.
In the second quarter, Ireland looked better in the playing structure and it reflected in their performance.
However, India still made incursions into the rival circle. Akashdeep Singh had only goalkeeper David Harte to beat but he hastily fired straight at him.
Ireland tested Indian goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh in the 21st minute when Peter Caruth’s hit from the left went just over the top as the European team showed its skills at making the best use of long passes.
Two minutes later, they bagged their first penalty corner but Jermyn’s variation strike from the left went wide. Conor Harte, brother of captain David, hit wide, much to the relief of the Indian camp.
In the turnover, India responded very strongly as Chinglensana provided a long aerial ball on the left flank for Nikkin Thimmiah, who received on the half-line and moved forward inside the Irish circle but Ramandeep failed to meet the cross on the right.
Later, India earned their fifth penalty corner but Rupinder’s flick was lethargic. However, the player from Faridkot in Punjab hit to the right top corner to make it 2-0 in the 27th minute.
Ireland further improved their game in the third quarter and in the 35th minute they earned another penalty corner which was strongly defended by the Indian side.
However, India conceded their opening goal in the 45th minute when Jermyn beat a diving Sreejesh on the low right to give a major boost to the Irishmen.
Four minutes later, India recovered to regain their two-goal advantage when Rupinder’s powerful flick kicked defender John Jackson’s knee before entering the goal.
After the goal, India made the mistake of going on the defensive and it helped a desperate Ireland. India came under pressure and they conceded as many as five penalty corners.
In one of the nervous moments, a free hit struck Raghunath on the foot, resulting in a penalty corner which was converted by Conor. Sreejesh rushed ahead to clear a push from a close range after a variation and the ball bounced in the goal-melee but Conor chipped the ball in to reduce the difference to one.
Later, India saw off some frenzied offence from Ireland but Roelant Oltmans’ wards held off the challenge to win 3-2.
In the other match in Pool B, the Netherlands and Argentina shared the spoils in a 3-3 draw. The Dutch team found its goals in Jeroen Hertzberger (18th), Mink van der Weerden (36th) and Seve van Ass (43rd), while Lucas Villa (28th and 49th) and captain Matias Paredes (54th) scored for the Argentines.