Sandeep the cynosure

The jubilant Indian team after qualifying for the London Olympics.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh slammed five goals, including a hat-trick, as India qualified for London Olympics men's hockey after missing the 2008 edition, by spanking France 8-1 in the final of the qualification tournament in New Delhi on February 26.

Coming into the game with memories of the Santiago debacle four years ago still fresh in their minds, the Indians ensured that there was no repeat of the blunder this time around and toyed with the French defence throughout the 70 minutes to score goals at will.

Sandeep, who witnessed the debacle in Santiago from close quarters, continued his goal-scoring spree to not only help eight-time Olympic champion India keep its date with London, but also emerged as the highest scorer of the tournament with 16 goals.

The 18th ranked Frenchmen proved to be a mismatch for the erstwhile giants of the game as India scored three and five goals respectively in either halves to dash the European team's London dreams.

The Indians were right on the money with their game plan as France found it impossible to counter the home team's consistent attacks.

The difference between the two teams could be gauged from the fact that both India and France earned as many as seven penalty corners each, but the visiting team failed to utilise even one while the host converted six.

The rout started with Birendra Lakra's field goal in the 17th minute after which it was a one-man show as Sandeep (19th, 26th, 38th, 49th and 51st) converted five successive penalty corners for India to floor France. S. V. Sunil (43rd) and V. R. Raghunath (56th) were the other goal-getters for the host, while Simon Martin-Brisac (24th) scored the consolation goal for France.

(Details next week)