A SCORCHER: V.R. Raghunath scores India's second goal during its 8-1 drubbing of Italy. Photo: S. Subramanium
Indian captain Bharat Chetri had predicted that the home team's outings against Singapore and Italy would be like ‘practice matches.' His words turned out to be prophetic.
India warmed itself up for the sterner tests ahead by decimating another minnow, 28th-ranked Italy, 8-1 as it registered its second consecutive victory in the Olympic hockey qualifier at the National Stadium, here on Sunday.
The back-to-back win helped the host garner six points and reach the top of the table with a huge goal difference of +21.
Sandeep Singh (3), S.V. Sunil (2), V.R. Raghunath, Gurvinder Singh Chandi and Shivendra Singh scored for India. Alessandro Nanni reduced the margin for Italy.
For the statistically-minded, India could not better its previous best performance against the same rival, recorded way back in 1959. Then, Italy had suffered a 0-10 loss in an invitational tournament played in Terrassa.
However, the result here was quite different from India's 3-0 win in Caligari, where the two clashed 17 years ago.
On Sunday, the host started from where it had left off in its opening engagement against Singapore. But, in the face of some tough tackles from the Italians, the action was less monotonous than expected. Against the physically stronger European team, the game was more demanding. The Indians seemed ready for the challenge and pressed hard for goals by fielding 10 men inside the Italian half for the most part.
India drew first blood when Sandeep's low flick from a fourth minute penalty corner, sounded the board. He went on to hit the target two more times as India scored its first four goals off short corners and enjoyed a 100 per cent conversion rate at the lemon break.
Apart from that, Sunil and Chandi contributed a goal apiece to help the Asian Champions Trophy winner go 6-1 up in the opening 35 minutes. The only blemish for the host was a goal conceded in the 16th minute.
Nanni pushed home a rebound off a penalty corner, originating from poor defensive work by Sandeep. Three minutes after the change of ends, Sunil deflected in a Sandeep slapshot to complete his brace.
However, Italy displayed some solid defence through man-to-man marking and quick clearances. A few wide shots also prevented India from extending its lead for a period of 14 minutes.
Shivendra slotted in the final goal for India, which again struggled to taste success in the final 18 minutes.
Poland shocks Canada
In other matches in the men's competition, 19th-placed Poland shocked 14th-ranked Canada 3-2 in a thriller, while France banked on Martin Genestet's five goals, including a hat-trick, to outplay Singapore 9-0.
Monday is a rest day in both the men's and women's qualifying tournaments.
The results: Poland 3 (Mateusz Poltaszewski 18, Artur Mikula 33, Dariusz Rachwalski 70) bt Canada 2 (Iain Smythe 35, Sukhwinder Singh 54); France 9 (Martin Genestet 3, 30, 56, 58, 69; Sebastien Jean 14, 41; Simon Martin-Brisac 17, Fabien Magner 32) bt Singapore 0; India 8 (Sandeep 4, 22, 23; Sunil 30, 38; Raghunath 12; Chandi 32; Shivendra 52) bt Italy 1 (Nanni 16).