India overwhelmed a valiant French team, 8-1, to earn its return to the Olympic Games. Canada finished the Hero FIH Road to London tournament on a high note, winning 4-3 against Poland to grab the bronze medal. Italy defeated Singapore, 5-0, for fifth place.
Final: India vs. France: 8-1 (half-time: 3-1)
The final match of the Hero FIH Road to London tournament, with the Olympic qualification on the line, started in a fiery atmosphere in a Major Dhyan Chand National Hockey Stadium in Delhi filled to capacity. India needed to redeem itself in front of the home crowd after missing the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, while France was hoping to stop a 40-year drought, with its last Olympics coming in 1972 in Munich.
India was immediately all over the French circle, forcing its first penalty-corner in the first five minutes of play, but Sandeep Singh’s flick was countered by a speedy Francois Scheefer, very fast off the block. The French were very focused on the task at hand, closely marking the Indian forwards one-on-one and not taking any risk with the ball. France had first incursion in the Indian circle after eleven minutes of play, and started to be a little more daring in their attacks, but still retreated fast on defense as soon as possession was lost.
India had a hard time penetrating the tightly meshed French defense, only managing one serious shot in the first eighteen minutes. It was well saved by Matthias Dierckens in the French goal, but there was not much he could do shortly after when Birendra Lakra received the ball on a penalty-stroke point, and swiftly addressed a reverse stick shot high in the goal, throwing the adoring crowd into a frenzy..
India used the video-umpire referral to claim a penalty-corner and this time Singh slotted his powerful flick high over the head of the French defenders to widen the gap to two goals. The French were no out yet,, and exposed the leaks in the Indian defense when a powerful pass by Sebastien Jean-Jean found Simon Martin-Brisac for a deflection past Sreejesh Paratuu Raveendranin the Indian goal!
France used a different defense on the next Indian penalty-corner, with the goal-keeper as first runner, but they could not prevent Singh from scoring his second goal to re-established the two-goal lead. The 3-1 lead stood at the half.
India started the second period at full speed and Dierckens needed to run out of the circle to tackle an Indian attacker. Singh had another attempt at penalty-corner shortly after and dutifully slotted it, this time in the top right corner, to complete the hat-trick.
France had its chances on a series of penalty-corners, and hit the post. India scored its fifth goal when France was playing short a player on a green card and things started to look grim for the French team. Tempers were running high, fed by the vocal crowd, and France started to be overwhelmed by the incessant Indian attacks. Singh scored two additional penalty-corners to push the score to 7-1, for a total of 17 goals in the competition so far.
India was still going hard at the French goal in the final minutes and Dierckens was forced to prevent the score from getting beyond 8-1.
Soon the India could celebrate itsreturn to the Olympic Games, after clearly winning this Hero FIH Road to London tournament.
Player of the Match was Sandeep Singh, scoring five goals for India in this match.
For more information on IND v FRA, click here.
3rd-4th: Poland vs. Canada: 3-4 (half-time: 2-2)
Poland and Canada had legitimate hopes to be in the Final of this Hero FIH Road to London tournament. They both fell to India in the round-robin, and Poland surprised Canada with a last second penalty-corner goal on the second day of action.
Canada learned its lesson from the first match against Poland and immediately besieged the Polish circle. Canada scored on its second attempt when Scott Tupper’s low flick was deflected in goal by Ken Pereira, playing in his 348th international match.
Poland responded strongly and challenged David Carter in the Canadian goal. Artur Mikula scored after stealing a ball from a Canadian defender and the match was back to square one with the teams tied at 1-1.
Poland was pressing hard on the Canadian defenders and midfielders, trying to prevent them from developing the game. Canada had a chance on penalty-corner, and Poland could have scored immediately after at the other end but was denied by a fantastic reflex save by Carter on a hard shot from close range.
The deadlock was broken in the 28th minute when Rob Short, the other veteran of the Canadian team (346 Caps), received the ball in front of the goal and turned around for a high shot that left no chance to Arkadiusz Matuszak in the Polish goal. The Canadian celebration was once again short-lived, Szymon Oszyjcczyk equalizing on the next play, for a score of 2-2 at half-time.
Play remained intense at the beginning of second period. Matthew Guest forced a penalty-corner with a powerful run along the back-line, then was on-hand to deflect Tupper’s flick in goal to give back the lead to Canada. Poland though that it had once again tied the score shortly after by Karol Majchrzak, but the Canadians successfully used its video-umpiring referral and the goal was denied, allowing Canada to build a two-goal lead on the next action, again by Pereira, in good form in this match.
The large crowd was kept well entertained by this very exciting game. Poland closed the gap to one goal by Bartosz Zywiczka and could have scored again without a goal line clearance by Short. Goal-keeper Matuszak was the hero for his team when he saved a penalty-stroke from Tupper with ten minutes to go, keeping Poland within striking distance in a breathtaking finale, with play flying back and forth at high speed and near misses at both ends.
Canada hung on to its narrow lead, successfully defending two penalty-corners in the final minute to grab the bronze medal with the 4-3 win.
Player of the Match was Canadian captain Ken PEREIRA.
For more information on POL v CAN, click here.
5th-6th: Italy vs. Singapore: 5-0 (half-time: 2-0)
This game was a repeat of the last match of round-robin, won by Italy, 4-0. Both teams have struggled (goal difference of -20 for Italy and -49 for Singapore), but the young Singaporean team, called in at the last minute, has greatly benefited from the exposure and improved significantly during the week.
Italy tried to put some pace in the game but Singapore blocked all their attempts, well backed by Sam Ong, having a solid game in goal. Ignacio Salas and Agustin Nunez were very active upfront, forcing a number of penalty-corners that were well defended. The score remained tied until the 28th minute, when Italy opened the scoring on another penalty-corner, this time using an option that found Daniele Malta on the post for a deflection.
Andrea Corsi added a goal from close range in the final minute of the period for a deserved 2-0 lead going into the half-time break.
Nunez scored a fantastic goal in the 42nd minute, receiving the ball in the middle of the circle and coolly lifting it over the running goal-keeper. The Singaporean players were starting to fade physically, possibly not used to play six high-level games in a week, and Salas added another goal to push the score to 4-0 with still fifteen minutes to go.
Singapore had a final surge, forcing a penalty-corner and threatening for a while Davide Guida, who had a quiet afternoon in the Italian goal, but no more goal was scored and Italy finished 5th of the Hero FIH Road to London tournament.
Player of the Match was Ignacio Salas of Italy.
For more information on ITA v SIN, click here.
Final Standings:1) India, qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London
Player of the Tournament: Sardar SINGH (India)
Goal-keeper of the Tournament: Mariusz CHYLA (Poland)
Top Goal Scorer: Sandeep SINGH (India), 16 goals
Fair Play: India
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