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Olympic hockey qualifiers: Indian men, women in finals (Roundup)

New Delhi, Feb 24 - The Indian men's and women's teams Friday night made it to the finals of the 2012 London Olympics qualifiers, the former with a come-from-behind 4-2 win over Poland and the latter scraping past Italy 1-0 at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium.

The women's team will take on South Africa in Saturday's final while the men will square off with France Sunday.

For the men's team, ace drag-flicker Sandeep Singh (26th, 70th) was again the star of the night slamming in two from penalty corners while Shivendra Singh (59th) and Vokkaliga Raghunath (65th) scored one goal apiece. Sandeep is the leading goal scorer in the tournament with 11 goals.

Poland took an early lead through Tomasz Dutkiewicz in the 13th minute and Mirsloaw Juszczak helped them make it 2-2 in the 63rd minute but the winning goal remained elusive.

With France brightening its hopes for a place in final after a 1-1 draw with Canada earlier in the day, India needed just a draw to book a final berth.

But India, as promised by chief coach Michael Nobbs, were in no mood to play for a draw. After the first half ended 1-1, India forced themselves in the second-half with three goals and also assured France a place in Sunday's final.

India found it tough to breach the solid Polish defence and had to rely on penalty corners for scoring. They earned as many as nine penalty corners and converted three.

India pushed hard and earned four penalty corners in a space of eight minutes and Sandeep clinically converted the fourth to equalise for the hosts.

Shortly after the break, Shivendra came close to breaking the deadlock but his shot from top of the D missed the goal by a whisker.

India built the pressure on Poland from both the flanks and Sandeep had his drag-flick saved in the 41st minute while two attempts went begging in the 57th minute as Shivendra failed to trap the ball.

Just before the hour mark, Shivendra made it 2-1 deflecting in a brilliant pass from Sarwanjit Singh.

The lead, however, was short-lived as Mirsloaw converted the third penalty corner for the Poles to make it 2-2.

But India came back strongly in the last six minutes through drag-flickers Raghunath and Sandeep to dash Polish hopes.

For the women's team, Ritu Rani struck the winner in the 55th minute off a rebound from Jaspreet Kaur's drag-flick.

India have to blame themselves for waiting too long to break the deadlock. They wasted five penalty corners before getting their act together in the sixth.

It was a crucial match for both teams. India needed a win while a draw was enough for the Italians to take them through. With the win India finished second behind World No.12 South Africa (13) with 10 points.

India were lucky to win as the Italians adopted a defensive approach and tightly marked the forwards inside the circle.

India, World No.13, had to toil hard against Italy, 19th in FIH rankings. Despite pressing hard from the start, they were scrappy as the links failed to combine well with the forwards.



-IANS


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