The last time India locked horns with France was at the 2015 Hockey World League Semifinal Round at Antwerpt, where the Blueskirts were pushed to their limits before they rode on a Ramamdeep Singh’s final-minute goal after having conceded an early goal to scrape past their resolute opponents 3-2.
Much of the French resistance was on display in the opening quarter of the 2022 Pro Hockey League opener against India at NWU Astro, Potchefstroom, South Africa. It did look like the match would go right down to the wire but the Graham Reid-coached Indian outfit literally took the game away from France in seven minutes of mayhem in the second quarter.
India needed ever-dependable Harmanpreet Singh to draw first blood in the 21st minute and France seemed to have lost the plot from thereon – a needless tackle by French captain Victor Charlet on Nilakanta Sharma outside their striking circle resulted in a penalty corner. Varun Kumar did just what Harmanpreet executed a few minutes later – choosing the right bottom left corner – an area goalkeepers find it difficult to negotiate – French goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry was found wanting on the right for the second straight time as India seized the initiative. An abortive France penalty corner effort was converted into a superb counter as Nilakanta Sharma drilled a lovely diagonal pass to newbie forward Abhishek on the left, who feed to Shamsher Singh, who easily tapped it home as India went into half-time with a confident, if not commmading 3-0 lead.
France needed to show serious fight but all their aspirations were thrown to the wind as India struck early in the third quarter after skipper Manpreet Singh set up Mandeep Singh with a crafty pass from the right. Victor Charlet completed a poor day in the pitch with a sloppy defensive blunder that allowed experienced Akashdeep Singh to unlesh a tomahawk that brooked no answer from the French goalkeeper.
France played well in patches and did not conceded any goals in the opening and final quarters – they actually lost the game in those seven minutes of the second quarter when India came up with a three-goal blitz.