India beat France 8-1, qualify for London Olympics
Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh slammed five goals, including a hat-trick, as India qualified for London Olympics men's hockey after missing out the 2008 edition by spanking France 8-1 in the final of the qualification tournament today. Navneet Singh reports. Congratulate Indian hockey team | London here we come! | Sandeep rises like a phoenixUpdated: Feb 27, 2012 01:52 IST
Even before India entered ground zero, the Tricolour was fluttering all over the National Stadium, reminding Michael Nobbs and his boys of the billon dreams they carried on their shoulders.
The stadium erupted with joy as the long hooter signalled the end of the duel, and the victorious team did a lap of honour. It was a proud moment, not only for the players but for the nation.
Physical fitness was the main reason behind the team's success. And who else knows it better than David John, the physical trainer. Staying away from the media glare, the Australian not only helped the players in the gym but also worked on their diet.
Despite the home advantage, and vociferous fans backing them to the hilt, the Indians started slowly. In fact, the forwards, including SV Sunil, often hit a roadblock every time they tried to move into the circle.
The French, with their long clearances, kept the Indians at bay. But a close-range reverse-flick by Birendra Lakra in the 17th minute opened the floodgates. On the eve of the final, drag-flicker Sandeep Singh had promised a flurry of goals. His words came true as he converted five of the six penalty corners --- including a hat-trick --- to take his tally to 16 goals in the tournament.
His first goal came in the 19th minute (2-0), the second in the 24th minute (2-1). His third and the team's fourth goal came just at the start of the second half. His other two goals came in the 49th and 51st minutes. Sunil and VR Raghunath also moved the scoreboard in the 43rd and 56th minutes, respectively.
For France, Simon Martin Brisac pulled one back in the 24th minute. The European team also got a couple of penalty corners, but failed to convert them.
The emphatic wins in the league matches and the final don't ensure a cakewalk in the London Games. In the recent past, India haven't won against top teams, including Australia. With over four months to go for the mega event, coach Michael Nobbs will have some work to do.
Meanwhile, Hockey India announced a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh each for the members of the winning team and Rs 50,000 for the support staff.
First Published: Feb 26, 2012 21:49 IST