|Sandeep Singh (right) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Canada, on Wednesday. (PTI)
New Delhi: Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, once again, displayed his scoring skills as the home side defeated a determined Canada 3-2 in the Olympic qualifiers, on Wednesday.
Having it way too easy, so far, India met their match for the first time in the meet on Wednesday. On the verge of being ousted, Canada, the worlds 14th ranked side, put up a stiff fight in the second session to wipe out a 0-2 deficit and then threatened the Indian defence with repeated raids.
Finally, it was Sandeep, who came to Indias rescue with a sizzling penalty corner conversion in the 61st minute. It not only saved India a lot of embarrassment, in front of a sizeable crowd, but also, virtually, ensured a place in the final for India.
With 12 points from four matches, only a miracle can now deny India a place in the final. Even if Poland, who have nine points, beat India on Friday and France (nine) get the better of Canada, India would reach the penultimate round on the strength of their huge goal difference.
So far, India have scored 32 goals in the tournament and conceded six.
The battle against Canada was tough but the Indians made it look tougher. Both the goals were results of defensive lapses and it allowed Canada to nearly snatch the initiative.
Though it took the Indians 26 minutes to draw first blood through Shivendra Singh, it looked all over when Sandeep converted a penalty corner in the 40th minute to widen the margin. But 10 minutes later, Canada scored twice in a span of three minutes to change the complexion of the tie.
While Mark Pearson struck the first goal, experienced penalty corner specialist Scott Tupper slammed in the next. Had not Sandeep held his nerves to score his eighth goal of the qualifiers, India would have found themselves in deeper trouble.
Meanwhile, France had to work hard for a 3-0 win lower-ranked Italy and Poland trounced inexperienced Singapore 11-3 to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the final.
By virtue of the wins, both Poland and France have secured nine points from four outings, but the former occupy the second in the points table ahead of the Frenchmen on better goal difference.
France will play higher-ranked Canada in their last round-robin match on Friday while Poland will be up against favourites and table toppers India.
France, who drew a blank in the opening session against Italy, converted three penalty-corners in the second half through captain Arnaud Becuwe, Martin Genestet and Frederic Verrier to earn full points.
The Italians put up a stubborn fight in the first half as France wasted a series of penalty-corners.
The Frenchmen were also denied multiple times by an excellent Davide Guida in the Italian goal. Despite their heavy domination, France failed to penetrate the regrouped Italian defense as the opening half ended goal-less.
It took France 43 minutes to surge ahead when Becuwe scored a field goal after pouncing on a loss ball.
Genestet then scored from a penalty corner to extend Frances lead. Verrier made the score line 3-0 in favour of the Frenchmen by converting another penalty corner.
Szymon Oszyjczyk scored three goals and Mateusz Poltaszewski netted two for Poland against Singapore, while Miroslaw Juszczak, Tomasz Gorny, Bartosz Zywiczka, Artur Mikula, Waldemar Rataj and Michal Nowakowski scored one goal apiece.
Mohammed Farhan Kamsani scored two goals for Singapore and Mohammed Fazri Jailani one.