If Graham Reid had dreamt of a perfect team performance in India's World Cup opener, his team made it a reality on Friday. India opened their campaign with a 2-0 win over Spain, leaving both Reid and the crowd at the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela, very happy and satisfied.
Hardik Singh, India's best player on the pitch
After the match, Reid told ESPN that Friday's outing was the team's best defensive performance since the Tokyo Olympics. That performance was contexualised in how India's midfielders pressed and intercepted the ball, never allowing Spain to dictate things in the middle of the pitch.
The entire midfield, which included Manpreet Singh, Shamsher Singh, Nilakanta Sharma and Vivek Sagar Prasad had a good game but one name stood out.
Hardik Singh's display was a lesson in how to put in a perfect midfield performance. Moving up when he needed to, tracking back when applicable, pressing when the team wanted to win the ball high up the pitch and also penetrating the circle with his speed and dribbling.
There were two moments from the match that summarised his performance.
First quarter: Hardik steals the ball from the defender at the halfway line, sprints towards the circle, combines with attackers Sukhjeet Singh and Akashdeep Singh, but the final pass went missing.
Spain ought to have learned from this mistake. It was foolhardy to underestimate Hardik in midfield. The second moment was also similar to the first, only this time it resulted in a goal.
Second quarter: Hardik presses and wins the ball on the left side of the field, runs into the circle after beating multiple defenders with his dribbling skills. He passes it to the attacker in the centre of the circle, the ball takes a deflection before looping into the goal.
Prior to Hardik's goal, local boy Amit Rohidas thumped a superb goal from a penalty corner to give India the lead in the first quarter. Harmanpreet Singh's dragflick lacked venom and was blocked, but Rohidas - who was in the second battery - pounced on the ball and smashed the ball into the top corner.
Two goals, two unlikely scorers for India. It was expected that Spain would take the game to India from the off, but the hosts made it really difficult for Spain to play their natural high intensity game. The final stats say India enjoyed 63% possession, won more penalty corners and had more circle penetrations than their opponents.
India win two big moments in defence
It's also important to point out two big defensive moments in the match, excluding the goals, and how India came out on top in both.
"Our best defensive performance since Tokyo" ��#HockeyWorldCup2023 pic.twitter.com/NtODIhzHkY
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) January 13, 2023
The first one came early in the first quarter.
Spain's Alvaro Iglesias collects the ball inside the circle with just one defender near him. He takes a touch or two, turns and hits the ball. The ball beats Rohidas and goalkeeper Sreejesh, but Varun calmly clears the ball away with a cute flick off his legs.
The next one came just before the half-time break.
Once again Iglesias collects the pass from the midfield inside the circle with a lot of space around him. He tries passing it to the nearest attacker close to the goal, but Surender comes in the way, blocks the shot and clears the danger away.
Both were extremely good chances for Spain. Conceding goals at crucial junctures - right in the opening minute and just before the half-time - would've turned the game around but India came good in defence both times.
Next up for India is another crucial match against England - who beat Wales 5-0 earlier - thus setting up a potential decider for who tops the group and progresses to the quarterfinals.