In a pool of easier teams,Canada were expected to be the toughest opponents for the Indian men in the ongoing Olympic qualifiers,and Wednesdays game went according to the script. India prevailed 3-2 despite some tight marking and a host of errors in front of the goal,a result that ensured the hosts made the final. However,they will have to work on their game should they run into last years Pan-American Games champions on Sunday again.
India started off the way they have all through the tournament attacking from the word go. But for the hosts it wasnt a goal-fest this time,for the Canadians were up to the task. Indias own problems poor finishing and inability to convert penalty corners also resulted in it being a close game in the end.
For the first 20 minutes,the teams matched up in intensity,and Canada made as many forays into the Indian circle as the hosts. But SV Sunil,though as fast as always,was off-colour in his accuracy on the right,and that hampered Indias scoring opportunities. They earned two penalty corners in the first half but couldnt convert. India finally took lead through Shivendra Singh,who has now scored in every match of the competition so far,after SK Uthappa sent the ball in from near the left backline and Tushar Khandker snatched it from a Canadian defender to put Shivendra through.
Sandeep finally struck five minutes into second half before scoring the winner in the 61st minute – both through penalty corners. In between,however,the Canadians went all out on the attack,penetrating at will and putting India under pressure. Mark Pearson pulled one back in the 50th minute when he beat the Indian defence and slotted the ball past goalkeeper PR Sreejesh,who failed to block the shot despite being on the goal-line. Three minutes later,Scott Tupper levelled the score.
What made the difference was the suspension of Philip Wright in the 60th minute,and India latched on to the numerical advantage,earning a penalty corner a minute later which resulted in the winner.
The game,however,was perhaps the wake-up call India needed after a string of easy wins. The strike force was not up to the mark – Shivendra Singh,SV Sunil,Tushar Khandker and Gurvinder Singh Chandi all missed chances. The defence was equally lacklustre,and though Sardar Singh was named Man of the Match,he was not as effective as he usually is in holding up the half line. The Indians were also guilty of not putting more pressure on the opposition in the last 10 minutes,when the Canadians were not only down in numbers but also appeared to be running out of steam. In that period,in fact,India could create just one penalty corner.
The Canadians deserve some credit too,as they played a very European style of hockey,crowding their defence and attempting to strike through counter-attacks. They also played a tight man-to-man marking,tying down the Indians,specially Sarwanjit on the right and Danish Mujtaba in the middle. In the end,however,they lost to the superior team. The Canadian now need to beat France to make the title clash,while India can take it easy against Poland. In fact,a draw would perhaps be the best result for the hosts,since that would keep Canada out of the the final,allowing Poland to sail through instead.
Yuvraj out for 12 weeks
The Indian team,meanwhile,suffered a setback when Yuvraj Walmiki was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring tear. The young forward pulled a muscle during Tuesdays match against France,and his MRI reports said it was a Grade 2 muscle tear. The scan reports are yet to come but the doctors have said that I will be out of action for at least 10-12 weeks, Yuvraj said.
The youngster was disappointed with his own performance,and felt that things had not gone his way since the beginning. First I fractured my finger,then this. It has not been a good tournament for me, he said.
Other results: Poland bt Singapore 11-3,France bt Italy 3-0