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India down Canada, qualify for Olympics
Our Correspondent | March 09, 2004 18:08 IST
Last Updated: March 09, 2004 18:53 IST
India assured themselves a berth in the men's hockey tournament at the Athens Games when they beat Canada 6-4 in their concluding league match of the Olympic qualifier in Madrid on Tuesday.
The victory enabled India finish their Pool B engagement with ten points and make it to the semi-finals of the ongoing qualifying tournament.
Pakistan, who lead the table with ten points, play New Zealand in their last match of the pool. Whatever the outcome of that match, India will make the semi-final because of a better goal difference.
Should the Kiwis beat Pakistan by a margin of four goals, then Pakistan will be edged out of a semi-final berth in the qualifier and will have to play for 5 to 8 places.
In a thrilling encounter, the Indians stunned Canada with two goals in as many minutes. The fleet-footed Deepak Thakur opened the account in the sixth minute. He broke away solo from the half line and essayed a stiff reverse hit on entering the circle.
Two minutes later Arjun Halappa was quick to pounce on the ball and score, after Gagan Ajit Singh's shot had ricocheted of the goalkeeper's pads.
Canada could have reduced the margin soon after the restart but goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan came to India's rescue, saving a deflection from Michael Oliver.
The Canadians had another chance but were unlucky to see skipper Rob Short's hit following an indirect variation from their first penalty-corner hit the post.
With India's midfield showing more purpose today, it was only a matter of time before the Canadian citadel fell again. Dilip Tirkey brought it down in the 19th minute, driving hard and true from India's second penalty-corner.
Though Canada made the odd foray into the Indian circle, the Indian forwards, particularly Thakur and Gagan Ajit, always looked threatening. A quick counter attack between the duo in the 25th minute forced goalkeeper MacKinnon to bring off a good save off the last-named.
Two minutes from the breather, Baljit Singh Dhillon could have made it 4-0 but had the mortification of seeing MacKinnon come in the way of his stiff shot.
But India did score in the dying seconds of the half when Thakur sounded the board.
India started the second session in whirlwind fashion with Thakur scoring his third goal immediately on resumption to make it 5-0.
But Canada scored in similar fashion in the next minute when Sean Campbell tore way past a host of Indians and slammed home.
The goal spurred the Canadians and they kept attacking the Indian goal. Their efforts bore fruit as they were awarded a penalty-stroke in the 55th minute, following a hard tackle by an Indian defender. Rob Short made no mistake from the spot to make it 2-5.
The Canadians pulled another goal back when they earned their fifth penalty-corner in the 60th. Paul Wettlaufer scored from a scrimmage, after his first shot was deflected, to make it 3-5.
Sean Campbell raised visions of a come-form-behind win for the Canadians when he scored with a reverse stick shot to reduce India's lead to 4-5 in the 69th minute.
But Ignace Tirkey broke away from the restart in the dying seconds to add another goal for India and put the issue beyond doubt at 6-4.