JAKARTA, Aug 22 (Reuters) - India’s days of ruling the field hockey roost at the Olympics might be a distant memory but they remain a continental power as their men’s team amply illustrated with a 26-0 hammering of Hong Kong at the Asian Games on Wednesday.
Having opened the tournament in Jakarta with a 17-0 thrashing of hosts Indonesia, reigning champions India were 4-0 up inside five minutes and kept their collective foot on the gas to register a record victory in an Asian Games match.
The win also bettered India’s previous record victory - a 24-1 win over the United States at the 1932 Olympics - but was some way short of New Zealand’s 39-0 victory over Papua New Guinea at the Oceania Cup in 2007.
“For me, it doesn’t really matter, but for the players, it’s a proud moment,” said India coach Harendra Singh.
“Whenever the history of Indian hockey is discussed, people will remember the victory margin and these 18 players. It’s their reward.”
Hapless Hong Kong, humbled 11-0 by 2006 Asian Games champions South Korea in their opener, failed to register a single shot on the Indian goal throughout the four quarters of the Pool A match.
Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Akashdeep Singh, Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh all scored hat-tricks as the Indian men outdid their women, who showed why they are favourites to win gold in Jakarta with a 21-0 rout of Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
India’s men won Olympic gold eight times between 1928 and 1980 but they have not played in a medal match in the nine Summer Games since their last title triumph in Moscow.
Finishing runners-up to powerhouse Australia at the Champions Trophy in July was taken as a sign of a renaissance in Indian men’s hockey under Harendra.
With a berth at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics going to the Asian Games gold medallists, Harendra was quite clear about the team’s mission in Indonesia.
“The objective is to play in the final game and to win it,” he said before the tournament. “Nothing else matters.”
India’s next match is against Japan on Friday, which Harendra believes will be a much sterner test of their title credentials.
“Our real competition, however, starts now,” he added.
“Even before leaving India, I said Japan are the team to watch out for. They have made rapid improvements under a shrewd coach.
“Our strikers need to be sharper.” (Additional reporting by Amlan Chakraborty, editing by Peter Rutherford)