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September 25, 2000
Task cut out for India
Jaideep Singh in Sydney
Vasudevan Bhaskaran's boys have their task cut out. India's hopes of making their first entry into the Olympic Games hockey semi-finals in 20 years hinges on keeping their seeding and putting it across the surprise packet from Poland.
Anything less than that would mark India"s doom. South Korea's narrow 3-2 win over Poland leaves India in a must-win situation if they aspire to reignite the spirit of yore by making their first semi-final since winning the last of their eight gold medals at Moscow in 1980.
Both Australia and Korea are now a point ahead of India and even a draw against the surprise packet from Poland would prove to be disastrous for India as Korea has a superior goal difference.
The lone point from a draw would leave India at par with Korea, who could edge India out even it loses to Australia by one goal. The points, goal differential and goals scored being equal, the result of the India-Korea league match would put India out in that case.
Any hiccups against Poland will mark the end of the road for this inspired Indian outfit, which has raised visions of bring back the country's lost glory. But there is still a long way to go and Poland's fightback against Korea in the second session -- something the Indians could not do -- showed the resolve of a team not to be taken lightly. India would do so only at its peril.
Korea squandered the chance of putting Australia on the mat. If it had managed a four-goal victory, Australia would then have needed a victory in the last match against the Koreans.
Korea seemed on course to do so when it took a three-goal lead two minutes into the second session before Poland came back to strike twice.
As things stand now, a Korean win would put Australia out of the semi-finals, provided India wins against Poland. But that's a tall order for now: Korea has beaten Australia only once in 26 encounters. Australia has won 18 of these head-to-head clashes while seven games have been drawn.
But having sensed a place in the semi-finals for the first time, Asia Cup winners Korea will not be an easy customer. The Aussies known that very well.
Sunday's 3-2 win over Poland brought Korea at par on eight points with Pool B leaders Australia, who have an edge on goal difference.
The loss against Korea marked the end of Poland's challenge for a maiden entry into the semi-finals, but it still has a lot to play for. A chance to figure in the Champions Trophy reserved for the top-six teams would be a good inspiration.
Korea started on the right note with penalty-corner conversion by Yeo Woon-Kon in the 12th minute and Kang Keon-Wook in the 18th to take a two-goal at the interval.
Hwang Jong-Hyun's field goal on a defence-splitting cross from Song Seung-Tae put it ahead by three goals in the 37th minute before Poland struck back.
Poland got two goals from a penalty stroke conversion by Rafal Grotowski in the 53rd minute and a field goal by Piotr Mikula in the 62nd.
The second Polish goal, one of the most opportunistic ones in these Olympics, reflected the reason India out to be on guard against this inspired side.
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