Hoping to recreate history after 43 years, hosts India started their hockey World Cup campaign on a rousing note, blanking South Africa 5-0 in their opening Pool C match in front of a packed Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday. World number five India are eyeing to reclaim the World Cup after 43 years, a title which they won only once way back in 1975 in Kuala Lumpur. Simranjeet Singh (43rd, 46th minutes) scored a brace, while Mandeep Singh (10th), Akashdeep Singh (12th) and Lalit Upadhyay (45th) were the other goal getters for India against a South Africa, ranked 10 places below India.
The Indians toyed with the South African defence in the first quarter as they mounted numerous attacks on the opposition goal and to their credit succeeded on two occasions to take a comfortable 2-0 lead early on.
India's first chance came in the third minute when skipper Manpreet Singh found an unmarked Mandeep alone inside the box with a defence-splitting pass but the striker failed to get his stick to the ball. But India took the lead soon when Mandeep scored from a rebound in the 10th minute from the hosts' first penalty corner.
It was Mandeep who earned the penalty corner for India after beautifully controlling a long scoop from Harmanpreet Singh. He then found himself at the right place at the right time to slot home after Harmanpreet's high flick was saved by South Africa goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse. Three minutes later, India doubled their lead through Akashdeep, who scored after the ball fell in front of his stick from a deflection of Simranjit Singh.
The Indians kept up the pressure on South African defence in the second quarter and secured their second short corner in the 19th minute but failed to utilise the chance as they went for a variation.
Just two minutes from half time, Nilkanta Sharma and Sumit combined well to create a great opportunity for India but the former missed the goal from close range. Leading by a comfortable two goals, India continued in the same vein after the change of ends and scored two more beautiful field goals in the third quarter.
India got their third penalty corner in the 34th minute but wasted the chance. South Africa showed glimpses of a comeback thereafter and came close to scoring in the 40th minute but an alert Indian custodian P R Sreejesh came out of his line to deny Richard Pautz. Minutes later, South Africa had another opportunity when they earned their first penalty corner but to no avail. India scored three fine field goals in a span of four minutes to take the match out of South Africa's reach.
Simranjeet scored his first goal in the 43rd minute by tapping in after Mandeep dribbled past a few South African defenders to set it up for his strike mate. Then, a diving Lalit deflected in a diagonal pass from Akashdeep before Simranjeet was once again at the thick of things, scoring his second of the day from India's fourth penalty corner.
The Indians wasted another opportunity in the form of their fifth penalty corner but hardly broke their sweat in getting past South Africa. India will next play world number 3 Belgium on December 2, while South Africa will be up against Canada on the same day. In tomorrow's matches, Olympic champions Argentina will play Spain in Pool A while New Zealand will take on France.