India opened their FIH Men's Hockey World Cup 2023 in style with a 2-0 win over Spain, in what coach Graham Reid called their best defensive performance since the Tokyo Olympics.
Keeping the ball out of their own net has been an issue that has plagued India, with the team today having ended a run of 12 matches without a clean sheet. "What I was very pleased about tonight was no goals conceded. It's been a while," Reid told ESPN after the match.
"What I think made the difference today was our defensive performance. I think that was our best defensive performance since Tokyo," said Reid.
India weren't quick to race off the blocks, and had to withstand some early pressure from Spain, who seemed intent on silencing the Rourkela crowd.
"We were getting pressure, first 20 minutes, we had to endure some tough stuff. We did that (and) that was great," he said.
Reid was also quick to point out how the result wouldn't have been possible without a complete team effort, in a match that saw the Indian midfield stamp their authority in Spain with their intensity off the ball, and quality on it.
Nobody epitomised that more than Hardik Singh, and Reid's words for his midfielder were simple, "yeah, well done, brilliant!"
Sometimes, when some well-laid plans work out, it makes coaches feel good, and Reid was no different, as Hardik's goal came soon after he had instructed them to ensure they were not one-dimensional in their attacks.
- ESPN India (@ESPNIndia) January 13, 2023
Hardik was everywhere for India in that game, as he helped them assume control. At times he was leading the high press and was the furthest man forward, at others he was India's last man in defence.
"That is my role, I have to go forward, I have to come back and defend, I have to do it for the team," he told ESPN.
Hardik said the control that India had over the game was a result of meticulous planning and execution of those plans. "We watched videos of Spain, and we knew we had to force turnovers high up the pitch for us to gain an advantage, and that is what we tried to do, which made it easier for us to defend," he said.
So that was it, a high press that worked wonders, made it easier for India to defend, and eventually keep a clean sheet. Happy team, happy coach, happy Rourkela.