Defensive Korea deny India a win; draw 2-2 in Asian Champions Trophy opener

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Indian men’s hockey team were denied a winning start to their campaign at the Hero Men’s Asian Champions Trophy with a spirited Korean team holding the defending Champions to a thrilling 2-2 draw at the Maulana Bhasani Hockey Stadium here on Tuesday.

For India, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay (3′) and Harmanpreet Singh (33′) scored while Jang Jong-hyun (42′) and Kim Hyeong-jin (46′) scored in Korea’s resurgence.

Although it was India who dominated the proceedings in the first and second quarters with better ball possession (58 percent) and a higher number of circle penetrations (14 for India and 8 for Korea), the Korean side rallied on a strong defensive structure in the third and fourth quarters to deny India any opportunity to score.

After Upadhyay put India ahead early in the game with a fine field goal — converted brilliantly after controlling the ball upon receiving an aerial pass in the attacking circle, India created another fine opportunity in the second quarter through Akashdeep Singh’s tomahawk from the left top of the circle.

But a highly vigilant Korean goalie Kim Jae-Hyeon made a fine save to keep India from extending the lead. He came up with another brilliant save when India won their first PC of the match only minutes before the end of the second quarter. It was Varun Kumar who took the shot which rebounded off Ki’s pads but newcomer Mandeep Mor’s attempt off the rebound too was well saved by the Korean goalie.

After the ten-minute half-time break, India extended their lead to 2-0 in the 33rd minute with a fiercely struck penalty corner converted by Harmanpreet Singh. It was India’s third take of the PC after the first two were blocked by Korea’s first rusher. Even though India created several chances in the following minutes, they could not find success even as Korea had successfully begun to make inroads into India’s circle.

Their tactic to force India to make infringements in defence worked, as India conceded the first PC of the match in the 42nd minute. After two retakes, Jang Jong-hyun successfully put the ball past India’s goalie Krishan Pathak. This goal boosted the Korean attack, which had seemed rather listless in the first two quarters.

They continued to challenge the Indian defence in the final quarter and even found success in the 46th minute when Kim Hyeongjin converted a fine field goal which could not be stopped by India’s young keeper Suraj Karkera. The final few minutes saw India create PCs but could not convert, thus settling for a 2-2 draw. Incidentally, India had drawn against Korea 1-1 at the same venue in 2017 during their successful campaign at the Hero Asia Cup. Korea was the only team India had not beaten in that victorious outing.

Post-match, Skipper Manpreet Singh expressed his disappointment but at the same time was confident the team would bounce back from this draw.

“Korea were really good today with their defence and their goalkeeper was quite outstanding. We expected them to give us a hard time and hence it was important we started well. But we couldn’t keep up that momentum going into the third and fourth quarter. Nonetheless, this was the first match of the tournament and we surely will bounce back tomorrow against Bangladesh,” stated the India captain.

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