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Rediff.com  » Sports » Britain end India's Olympic hockey hopes

Britain end India's Olympic hockey hopes

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March 10, 2008 06:09 IST

Great Britain scored twice in the first-half and ended India's Olympic dreams with a 2-0 victory in the final of the World Hockey qualifying tournament at the Prince of Wales Country Club, in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday.

Barry Middleton (4th minute) and Richard Mantell (10th) scored for Britain, who then showed the discipline and character to withstand intense pressure in the late night match and win a ticket to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Eight-time gold medallists India failed to make it to the Olympics for the first time since their debut in 1928.

While the British players celebrated to the accompaniment of the song We are the Champions, the Indians, heads bowed, could only watch the jubilant scenes of a team that played smarter if not better hockey.

On the day, it was Britain who showed a lot of steel in dealing with the massive pressure they were subjected to by the Indian forwards. The difference was that Britain, who had beaten India 3-2 in the league, capitalized on the two early chances that came their way, while the Indians did not.

India could never really settle down and the two yellow cards to their key players, midfielder Sardara Singh and forward Prabhjot Singh filled their cup of woe. It brought the number of yellow cards to five in three matches.

India also blew away five penalty-corners, with neither Ramachandra Raghunath, with his drag-flicks, nor Dilip Tirkey. with his direct hits, able to convert. In fact, their set-piece drill in the second-half was rather pathetic, as the ball was not even stopped cleanly.

Britain's first-half tactics were fairly obvious and that was to seize early initiative. Two goals within the first 10 minutes put them firmly in front while pushing India on the backfoot.

While Britain's performance was slick and sure, the Indians struggled to get going. The two teams were a study in contrast with Britain sticking to basics of close marking, quick release and positional play.

Middleton scrambled the ball in from a Ashley Jackson pass with the Indian defence caught square in the fourth minute and then Richard Mantell drag-flicked a 10th minute penalty-corner to put Britain on top.

India did knit together a few moves, but at the finish it was the same old tale of wrong passes and, at times, too much of individual play. With the time ticking by, India made desperate attempts force a penalty-corner and finally succeeded in the 31st minute. But Raghunath failed to beat goalkeeper Alistair McGregor.

A little earlier, Sardara Singh was sent out with two green cards in the 26th minute and his absence meant another round of reshuffling that affected Indian team balance.

In between the Indian attacks, Britain squeezed a couple of more raids and nearly scored twice with Jackson and then Tindall shooting wide of target.

On resumption, the Indians attacked with some urgency, but they suffered a setback when Prabhjot Singh was sent out with a yellow card suspension for deliberate stick-check. Yet again, it limited India's options while leaving a huge hole in the frontline.

India's persistence fetched them their second penalty-corner in the 47th minute, but goalkeeper McGregor easily blocked Dilip Tirkey's direct hit.

Seven minutes later, India forced three penalty-corners in quick succession, but twice Ignace Tirkey and then Shivendra Singh failed to stop the ball. Worse still, Ignace limped off the field after being struck on the knee by the British charger.

At the other end, goalkeeper Baljit Singh kept India in the game with some good saves as Britain wasted three penalty-corners.

Even as Indians grew in desperation, Britain kept their composure to survive the vital final moments of a match that barely rose to expectations in terms of quality though did not lack intensity and passion.

Earlier, Russia defeated Austria 6-3 to finish overall third while Chile overcame Mexico 9-3 in the play-off for 5-6 places.

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