India's Sandeep Singh celebrates with Shivendra Singh after scoring a goal during the Olympic qualifier Hockey match against France at National Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday. Photo: S. Subramanium.
By The Hindu
Final standings: 1. India, 2. France, 3. Canada, 4. Poland, 5. Italy, 6. Singapore.
RESULTS: Final: India 8 (Birendra Lakra 17; Sandeep Singh 19, 26, 38, 49, 51; S.V. Sunil 43; V.R. Raghunath 56) bt France 1 (Simon Martin-Brisac 24).
Third place playoff: Canada 4 (Ken Pereira 4, 51; Rob Short 27; Matt Guest 41) bt Poland 3 (Artur Mikula 9; Szymon Oszyjczyk 28; Bartosz Zywiczka 52).
Fifth place playoff: Italy 5 (Daniele Malta 28; Andrea Corsi 33; Agustin Nunez 42; Ignacio Salas 47, 58) bt Singapore 0.
THE methodical approach and the rock solid self-belief of the Michael Nobbs-coached Indian hockey team finally paid off as the side capped its chain of sterling performances in the Olympic qualifier with a thumping 8-1 win over France in the final.
The title victory at the National Stadium here on Sunday not only ensured the return of the Indian team to the Olympics after the 2004 Athens Games, but also healed the wounds of the four-year-old ‘Chile horror' when the country had failed to qualify for the Olympics for the first time in 80 years.
It also helped lessen the home fans' disappointment arising out of the women team's failure in making the trip to London.
The Indian players exulted in joy and gathered in a victory huddle when the clock completed its 70-minute countdown. It was a relief of lifetime for the six current players — Bharat Chetri, V.R. Raghunath, Shivendra Singh, Tushar Khandker, Sardar Singh and Ignace Tirkey — who were part of India's failed attempt to make the Olympics in 2008.
Sandeep Singh netted five goals, including his second hat-trick of the tournament, while Birendra Lakra, S.V. Sunil and V.R. Raghunath found the mark to record the superb victory in front of thousands of Tricolour-waving spectators.
Simon Martin-Brisac was the lone scorer for the runner-up team. France had already exceeded its expectations by making the final at the expense of the higher-ranked Canada.
In the action-packed first period, India overcame stiff resistance from the fast moving Frenchmen to pump in two spectacular goals in quick succession. Lakra completed a superb cross from Manpreet Singh on the right with a blazing reverse hit to open the account in the 17th minute.
The second goal came in dramatic circumstances with Shivendra Singh, pushed inside the French circle, successfully appealing for a penalty corner through video referral and Sandeep accomplishing the task with his trademark drag-flick.
France pulled one back through a surprise move as Sebastian Jean-Jean's on-the-run shot was deflected in by Martin-Brisac with his back to the Indian goal.
Sandeep scored from the host's third short corner and India kept its two-goal lead intact at the break with another successful referral which snatched away a penalty corner awarded to France, which built immense pressure on the host's defence with some fierce counter-attacks.
Sandeep converted the third consecutive penalty corner to make it 4-1 in the 38th minute. Led by a brilliant P.R. Sreejesh under the bar, India thwarted four penalty corners in a row.
Several bouts of frayed tempers and tough tackles from the Frenchmen could not stop the home forwards from going on a rampage and snuffing life out of the opposition.
Sandeep scored two more goals to complete his rare feat of five goals in a final. With 16 goals in the event, he emerged as the top scorer of the tournament.
Canada beat Poland 4-3 to take the third place, while Italy thrashed Singapore 5-0 for the fifth position.