Eight-time champions India are back in the Games with a 8-1 drubbing of France in the final of the 2012 London Olympic men’s hockey qualifiers at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here Sunday.
Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, who was a part of the team that lost the qualifiers in 2008, starred scoring five goals – including a hat-trick – all from penalty corners (19th, 26th, 38th, 49th and 51st). Birendra Lakra (17th), S.V. Sunil (43rd) and V.Raghunath (55th) scored goals apiece.
Sandeep, who had promised to score at least 12 goals in the tournament, remained the top scorer with 16 goals.
France scored their solitary goal completely against the run of play in the 24th minute through Simon Brisac-Martin.
Having missed an Olympics (2008 Beijing), for the first time in 80 years, India were this time determined not to suffer the same disaster. They did so with a dominating performance as Sandeep ripped apart the French team with his furry, converting five of the seven penalty corners that came his way.
There was never any doubt over the outcome, but the result still surprised. France, who had held Canada 1-1 in their last match to qualify for the final, were expected to put up a fight but in front of a 15,000 crowd they found the going tough. The scoreline was bigger than their 2-6 loss to India in the pool match.
France did their best to tightly mark the Indian forward but in 10 minutes, they found that it was of no use. India used both the flanks brilliantly with Tushar Khandekar and S.V. Sunil combining well with the link-men.
India had their first chance in the 16th minute but Manpreet Singh’s slap-shot from the top of the D was saved well by goalkeeper Matthias Dierckens. In the next minute, Manpreet, however, played a key role in giving India the lead. His precise pass found and unmarked Lakra, who slotted it in.
Two minutes later, India forward Shivendra Singh successfully appealed for a penalty corner after he was pulled in the D and the video umpire ruled in favour of India. Sandeep struck as India went 2-0 up.
France pulled one back completely against the run of play in the 24th minute. Sebastian Jean-Jean made a quick run into the defence and passed it to Simon, who deflected it into the net.
But in the next minute, Sandeep slammed again from a penalty corner as India went into the break leading 3-1.
For France all hell broke lose in the second half as India pumped in five more, one from field goal and four from penalty corners to complete the scoreline.