India learnt how much they will need to sharpen their game to earn a safe passage to the London Olympics. On Wednesday, against Canada, their toughest opponents so far in the Qualifiers, the hosts were jolted and were guilty of some ordinary hockey before the table toppers won 3-2.
The Canadian men badly needed a win or a draw at the national stadium, but India's drag flicker Sandeep Singh contributed two goals through his drag flicks, including the winner, to dash their hopes. India play second-placed Poland in their last league match on Friday.
The way Canada played in the first 20 minutes, the contest appeared like it was going their way. The team with a sprinkling of Indian origin players gave no room to India's forward line, often made speedy inroads into Indian territory and closely marked Indian players in the midfield.Denied space to play freely unlike their unfancied rivals in previous games, India were made to sweat by the team from across the Atlantic.
However, Shivendra Singh changed the complexion of the game in the 26th minute after he breached the Canadian defence, dodged the 'keeper and scored in a goal mouth melee. Thereafter, it was turn of Sandeep Singh, who followed up his hat-trick against France, to score in the 40th and 61st minutes.
Trailing by two goals, Canada showed plenty of intensity in their game. Mark Pearson made it 1-2 in the 50th minute as a glaring defence error saw 'keeper PR Sreejesh allow a tame push to go past him. Three minutes later Scott Tupper equalised.
However, Canada made a tactical blunder by going on the defensive. Sandeep then dashed Canada's hopes of advancing to the final. India's final opponent is likely to be either France or Poland. India's chief coach Michael Nobbs wasn't satisfied with the finishing of the team. "It wasn't good at all," he said.
India slumped to their first loss in the women's hockey Olympic qualifier as they were convincingly beaten 2-5 by South Africa. With this win, South africa became the first team to reach the final and sit atop the pool table with 10 points. India are placed third and must win their next match against Italy (who are second after beating Ukraine 2-1 on Wednesday) to make the final.
"Disappointed with the loss," siad coach CR Kumar. "We made many unforced errors."