By Sandeep Nakai Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Aug 6 : A big sigh of relief is what came out from the Indian camp at having won an Olympic hockey match after 12 years as they held back resurgent debutants Ireland to prevail 3-2 and pick full three points.
"It's a big relief to emerge winners after some late Irish resurgence," said Rupinder Pal Singh, who converted two penalty corners to emerge as India's hero in the first outing, which ended a lean run for India whose last victory at an Olympic hockey match came in 2004 at Athens.
India did not qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games and suffered the embarrassment of losing each of their seven fixtures to end at the bottom of the 12-team competition.
"It is after two Olympic Games that India have won a match and I am pleased to have played my part," said Rupinder, acknowledging that the errors crept into the Indian game in the middle part of this outing, but luckily they did not cost the Indians much.
Sardar Singh, who was replaced by P.R. Sreejesh as the captain ahead of the Olympics, was given the honour of wearing the captain's arm-band in the opening fixture.
"We have 3-4 scoring chances and we could have killed this game before, but what is important is that we have three points, which is not what Indian teams have done in recent times," said Rupinder.
In the past three decades, India had not managed to start their Olympic campaign with a victory, but today they achieved this despite an indifferent performance.
"The positivity will do us well going into the next encounter against defending champions Germany on Monday," said Rupinder.
"On a yardstick of 100, I would rate our show to be about 70 per cent. We need to do better than that when playing the two-time Olympic champions in two days." Germany have come to Rio de Janeiro with two successive Olympic titles under their belt, seeking to become the first country to complete a hat-trick in men's hockey after India's six-goal winning sequence ended in 1960 at Rome, when they lost the final to Pakistan.
In Indian coach Roelant Oltmans' assessment, the Indians performed around 75 per cent of their capacity.
"We could have done better, but I am happy with three points from the first fixture," said Oltmans. "Why could we not have killed this the match well before the final whistle," wonders seasoned penalty corner shooter V.R.
Raghunath, who opened the Indian scoring with a deft drag flick into the left corner in the 15th minute.
"We had the chances to kill this game and put it beyond Ireland earlier. I would suppose we should have clinched the game there itself," said Raghunath. Rupinder bolstered the lead with a rasping shot into the cage in the 27th minute before Olympic debutants Ireland scored their maiden goal in the 45the minute with a penalty corner conversion by John Jermyn.
Rupinder then returned to goal-scoring action with his second penalty corner conversion in the 49th minute, this time with a low drag flick that went in off a defender's stick.
Ramandeep Singh and S.V. Sunil could have put the game beyond Ireland, but Ramandeep muffed a sitter as he shot wide of a open goal, while Sunil failed to collect a back-pass and the chance was gone.
Sensing some nerves in the Indian camp, Ireland applied a lot of pressure in the last five minutes and scored their second goal in the 56th minute on another penalty corner attempt.
It was during a goalmouth scrimmage in the penalty corner attempt that the ball ballooned over goalkeeper Sreejesh before Conor Harte tapped the ball in.
Another penalty corner in the next minute and the Indians were sweating, but the drag-flick went soaring over the cross-bar this time.
"We need to raise our level, some better finishing could have got us this result easier," said Raghunath.