Sandeep Singh's five goals propelled India to an impressive 8-1 win over France in the final of the Olympic Qualifiers in Delhi and helped his team qualify for London 2012 as well.
The first half was a closely fought affair, with India banging in the first two goals only to see France come back with a brilliant field goal. But then India got another one to go into half-time at 3-1.
However, two goals within five minutes early in the second half sealed the deal. Sandeep was unstoppable in the penalty corners and after missing the first PC, he converted all his remaining attempts to almost single-handedly send India to the Olympics. The big-built sardar scored in the 19th, 26th, 37th, 49th and 51st minutes.
The other scorers for India were Birender Lakra, who opened the scoring in the 17th minute, Sunil made it 5-1 in the 43rd and VR Raghunath, with a powerful drag flick, made it 8-1 in the 56th.
The lone goal scorer for France was Simon Martin, who scored in the 24th minute completely against the run of play.
"I can't explain my feelings. I'm just really happy," said Sandeep, who was adjudged the Hero of the match, after the game. The drag-flicker scored a total of 16 goals during the tournament.
India had failed to qualify for Beijing Olympics in 2008 and that is one of the reasons why this tournament was so important for the future of the sport in India. For now, however, Michael Nobbs and his wards have booked their tickets to their 19th Olympic Games -- the most by any hockey-playing nation.
But remember this was just the first hurdle. Now, comes the real challenge. How do we become good enough to beat Australia, Germany, and Holland?
However, we'll save that argument for another day. For now let's just celebrate a team that has outdone itself and taken the first step towards becoming major force again in hockey.
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Updated Date: Feb 27, 2012 11:46:07 IST