By Y. B. Sarangi The Hindu
ONE MORE IN THE KITTY: Sandeep Singh celebrates after scoring against France. Photo: S. Subramanium
A fine blend of skill and power is a treat to watch on a hockey pitch. India mixed both aspects of the game with authority to outwit France, a side thriving on its well-built and experienced crop of players, in the Olympic qualifier at the National Stadium here on Tuesday.
The commanding 6-2 victory was the result of a well-tuned teamworkfrom the host. However, Sandeep Singh bagged his share of limelight by becoming the first Indian in the tournament to score a hat-trick.
Besides, Shivendra Singh, S.V. Sunil, Tushar Khandekar struck one goalapiece in the home team's third consecutive win. Lucas Sevestre andFabien Magner were the successful scorers for France.
With a clean slate, India is now comfortably seated at the top of thetable, while three sides — Canada, France and Poland — are tied on sixpoints.
India took the upper hand by pumping in two goals within the first 10minutes. From the left, Khandekar provided the ball to Sarvanjit Singh, who pushed it to Shivendra on the goalmouth to complete the formalities in the fourth minute. Minutes later, Sandeep found the mark with his accurate drag-flick.
The host could have made it 4-0 in no time had S.K. Uthappa andGurvinder Singh Chandi not failed to tap the crosses from S.V. Sunil, who tormented the French backline with some lightening forays from the right flank.
Even though India was unable to inflate its lead in the next 22 minutes, it controlled the game well and foiled the tough French players' counterattacks. Ignace Tirkey and Sardar Singh switched roles to tackle the dangerous looking Martin Genestet, Simon Martin-Brisac and Olivier Sanchez.
Sunil, who exchanged a few passes with Shivendra while rushing forward, had a hand in the home side's third goal. He tripped to a Frederic Verrier tackle on the edge of the circle and India earned a penalty stroke. Sandeep had no problem in putting it into the net.
France continued its endeavour to reduce the margin and succeeded in the final moments of the first period. Manpreet Singh gifted away a short corner and Sevestre beat Bharat Chetri with his powerful flick.
Sandeep came back after the half-time to earn his hat-trick and Sunil finished off a fine move to take the match away from France. Both sides hit the target once more each in the entertaining and high-speed encounter. Canada posted a 15-1 win over Singapore, while Poland thrashed Italy 7-2.
The results: Canada 15 (Phillip Wright 7; Mark Pearson 7, 35, 40, 52; Rob Short 11, 50, 69; Scott Tupper 19, 23, 29, 68; Sukhwinder Singh 31; Richard Hildreth 45; Matt Guest 57) bt Singapore 1 (Kai Bin Chia 13); Poland 7 (Miroslaw Juszczak 6, 34; Szymon Hutek 7; Szymon Oszyjczyk 16; Karol Majchrzak 52; Tomasz Gorny 65; Artur Mikula 66) bt Italy 2 (Daniele Malta 13, 32); India 6 (Shivendra Singh 4; Sandeep Singh 8, 30, 36; S.V. Sunil 39; Tushar Khandekar 63) bt France 2 (Lucas Sevestre 35 and Fabien Magner 56).
Schedule for Wednesday: Men: Poland vs Singapore (12 p.m.); Italy vs France (4 p.m.); India vs Canada (8 p.m.). Women: Ukraine vs Italy (10 a.m.); Canada vs Poland (2 p.m.); India vs South Africa (6 p.m.).