Fiery India blow France away

Sandeep strikes five goals as hosts secure Olympic berth with 8-1 drubbing

Fiery India blow France away

India banished the bitter memories of Chile in overwhelming fashion, mauling a resolute France to seal their dream ticket to the London Olympics.

Four years after being shunted out at the same stage by a spirited Great Britain that saw the national game suffer a massive setback, the hosts kick-started what they believe is the road to recovery, ripping The Blues apart 8-1 in a fiery final of the FIH Olympic Qualifiers at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium.

On a chilly evening with a packed and raucous crowd behind them, the hosts showed great character to live up to the hype and expectations. With premier hit-man Sandeep Singh firing on all cylinders, they bullied France into submission with a brutal and determined display.

Sandeep, who has been almost unstoppable in this tournament with his vicious drag-flicks, once again led the goal-fest, pumping in five stunning goals while Birendra Lakra, SV Sunil and VR Raghunath joined the party with a goal each to cap a memorable evening.

Things, however, didn’t appear so rosy for the hosts at the beginning with France coming out with a well-worked out strategy that irritated them. Off the blocks in typically blazing fashion, India earned their first penalty corner which Sandeep missed, his lone failure in the match.

Showing that they had learnt the lessons following the 2-6 defeat in the league phase, France chose to defend higher up rather than around the circle, allowing them to counter-attack if India lost possession during their blistering raids.

Struggling to make early inroads like they have often done in this tournament, India finally drew first blood, thanks to Sardar Singh’s fine vision in the 17th minute. The medio sent a fine crisp cross from the right that was guided into the circle by Manpreet Singh, which Birendra deflected home.

Within two minutes, India earned their second penalty corner, Sandeep powering home for a 2-0 lead. Just when it appeared as if the hosts would run away with the match, France, ranked eight rungs below India at 18, hit back from a quick counter-attack, Simon Martin-Brisac brilliantly deflecting Sebastien Jean-Jean’s cross from the right between his legs in the 24th minute.

However, France’s only moment of joy in the match in an otherwise disappointing performance didn’t last more than two minutes as Sandeep restored the two-goal cushion as the hosts went into the interval ahead 3-1.

Although off the mark three minutes into the second half, thanks to Sandeep again, the hosts were put under enormous pressure by a dogged France, who earned three penalty corners in the span of three minutes. Defending as if their life depended on it, India guarded their posts resolutely, sending tempers rising. France completely losing their cool as the hostile crowd kept chanting ‘losers, losers’.

It was exactly what the hosts wanted, as they quickly kicked several gears up without any warning. Goals kept flowing like liquid gold, Sandeep hammering two more and Raghunath and Sunil nailing one each to wrap up the game in a stunning 13-minute passage.

Results: Final: India: 8 (Birendra Lakra 17th, Sandeep Singh 19th, 26th, 38th, 49th, 51st, SV Sunil 43rd, VR Raghunath 56th) bt France: 1 (Simon Martin-Brisac 24th)

Third-place play-off: Canada: 4 (Ken Pereira 4th, 51st, Rob Short 27th, Matt Guest 41st) bt Poland: 3 (Artur Mikula 9th, Szymon Oszyjczyk 28th, Bartosz Zywiczka 52nd).

Fifth-place play-off: Italy: 5 (Daniele Malta 28th, Andrea Corsi 33rd, Agustin Nunez 42nd, Ignacio Salas 47th, 58th) bt Singapore: 0.

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