India rally to tame aggressive Canadians

Sandeep again the hero with two goals in 3-2 win

India’s men took a huge step towards securing a spot in Sunday’s FIH Olympic Qualifiers final, overcoming a steely Canada with a fighting display here on Tuesday.

SALUTE THE SPIRIT: Shivendra Singh (left) celebrates India’s first goal against Canada as SVSunil joins him in NewDelhi onWednesday. PTI

Billed as the contest of the tournament between the top two-ranked sides, the match lived up to its hype, India finding that extra spark to script a hard-fought 3-2 victory in front of a noisy crowd at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium.

Star drag-flicker and the tournament’s leading goal scorer Sandeep Singh, who fluctuated between the ordinary and the brilliant on a day of misses, played the role of the hero, scoring a brace including the winner that helped India maintain their all-win run.

India stay on top of the table with 12 points from four matches, and play Poland in the final league game on Friday.
India, who have so far started every contest on a fast note in search of early goals, struggled to control the game early on.

With the North Americans marking them tightly and hardly allowing any room to operate, the Indians found it difficult to move forward with their quick short-passing game.

While they were on the offensive for most part of the first half, they faltered with their passing and the final delivery into the circle was wayward. But just when the pressure was mounting on the Indians and after Canada ruined a glorious chance to become the first team take the lead against the hosts, the ever alert Shivendra Singh put them ahead.

The striker collected a cross from the left ahead of defender Adam Froese, the ball falling into the path of Tushar Khandkar at the near post. Seeing no way ahead for him, Khandkar pushed it back to Shivendra, who neatly tapped in in the 26th minute as India went into half time with a 1-0 lead.

Post the interval, India showed more spunk. They began to attack better, their passes beginning to click although their final ball into the ‘D’ was way off the mark. However, they opened up a 2-0 lead in the 40th minute when Sandeep, after having missed his previous two attempts, fired home in typically blazing fashion.

Just when it appeared as if India would step on the accelerator and finish off Canada, their defensive frailties came to the fore. Makeshift defender Ignace Tirkey messed up a simple clearance in the 50th minute and Mark Pearson made India pay with a fine reverse hit from an acute angle.

Scott Tupper then equalised three minutes later with a well-taken penalty corner that pushed the contest into a knife edge.

With nine minutes left and Canada reduced to ten men, India earned a penalty corner, setting the stage for Sandeep to cap his day on a high. With his aerial balls being easily thwarted by goalkeeper Antoni Kindler, the 25-year-old switched his strategy, firing it low and powerfully to seal a morale-boosting win.

Contrasting victories

Poland and France registered contrasting wins as both teams kept their hopes alive of securing a spot in the final.

While Poland had few problems disposing of lightweights Singapore 11-3, France had to sweat past a resolute Italy before powering home to a 3-0 victory.

The wins lifted both teams to the second spot in the league phase with nine points, the Poles ahead on goal difference.

Results: Poland: 11 (Szymon Oszyjczyk 9th, 59th, 63rd, Michal Nowakowski 24th, Miroslaw Juszczak 35th, Mateusz Poltaszewski 40th, 64th, Bartosz Zywiczka 50th, Artur Mikula 54th, Gorny Tomasz 56th, Waldemar Rataj 58th) bt Singapore: 3 (Mohammad Farhan Kamsani 37th, 49th, Muhammad Fazri Jailani 17th); France: 3 (Arnaud Becuwe 43rd, Martin Genestet 52nd, Frederic Verrier 57th) bt Italy: 0; India: 3 (Shivendra Singh 26th, Sandeep Singh 40th , 61st) bt Canada: 2 (Mark Pearson 50th, Scott Tupper 61st).

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