India drub Poland to set up final clash with France

Canadian hopes go up in smoke

Favourites India survived a huge threat from dangerous Poland, grinding out a thrilling victory to storm into the FIH Olympic Qualifiers final in command fashion here on Friday.

After France had shown second seeds Canada the door with a hard-fought 1-1 draw that necessitated Poland to eke out at least a draw to set up a final against the hosts, India initially appeared under the mat against Bas Dirks’ resolute men.

However, as they did against hard-tackling Canada on Wednesday, the top seeds found their range at the right time, relying on their offensive game to register a thumping 4-2 victory on a chilly evening at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium.

The victory helped India sign off the group stage on an unbeaten note with 15 points from five matches, setting up a Sunday final against dark horses France, who finished their engagements in second with 10 points. The winner of the final will advance to the London Olympics.

India began the contest in typically attacking note in search of early goals after which they could dictate terms. They kept raiding the rival citadel at regular intervals, pushing Poland on the defensive from the very outset.

The plan nearly paid dividends when Tushar Khandkar pushed a fine pass to Danish Mujtaba, whose shot was saved by goalkeeper Mariusz Chyla. The ball fell straight to Sarvanjit Singh, but the striker’s shot was saved by an acrobatic Chyla, the ’keeper producing many more brilliant saves that kept Poland in the contest until the very end.

The Poles then quickly hit back on the counter -- a strategy they employed for the entirety of the match that nearly appeared to work before misfiring in the end – from a penalty corner with their first penetration in the 13th minute.

Miroslaw Juszczak sold a dummy and Tomasz Dutkiewicz emerged from behind to slam it past custodian Bharat Chetri that stunned India, who conceded the lead for the first time in this tournament. Despite knowing that pouring men forward could hurt them, India hardly took a backward step, continuing to apply intense pressure on Poland, only to be let down by the final pass largely due to tight marking.

After missing two attempts, in-form Sandeep Singh left Chyla for dead, sending the ball roaring in to the top corner for India’s equaliser in the 26th minute.

Growing in confidence, India kept creating chances after chances with Sarvanjit, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Sandeep all missing an opportunity to put India ahead as tension rose.

Shivendra Singh then calmed Indian nerves, deflecting a stinging shot from Sarvanjit in the 59th minute before Poland hit back within four minutes, Juszczak converting the team’s third penalty corner.

Just when it appeared as if Poland would capture the vital one point and spoil France’s party, VR Raghunath rifled home a penalty corner in the 65th minute before Sandeep notched up his 11th goal of the tournament with the last hit of the match.

Italy win

Agustin Nunez scored a brace as Italy registered their first win of the tournament, easing past fellow minnows Singapore 4-0 in an inconsequential final league game.
Ignacio Salas and Mattia Melato struck one apiece for the Europeans, who will locks horns with Singapore once again on Sunday for the fifth place.

Results: Italy: 4 (Ignacio Salas 18th, Agustin Nunez 35th, 52nd, Mattia Melato 69th) bt Singapore: 0; France: 1 (Fabien Magner 56th) drew Canada: 1 (Iain Smythe 35th); India: 4 (Sandeep Singh 26th, 70th, Shivendra Singh 59th, VR Raghunath 65th) bt Poland: 2 (Tomasz Dutkiewicz 13th, Miroslaw Juszczak 63rd).

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