India emerge victorious but late goal keeps Russian hopes alive
A brace from forward Mandeep Singh helped India beat Russia 4-2 in the first of their two FIH Olympic Qualifier matches in Bhubaneswar on Friday. Russian goalkeeper Marat Gafarov was sensational in goal, as he made a series of saves to keep alive his team’s hopes of overturning the deficit on Saturday.
With just under five minutes into the match, Indian skipper Manpreet Singh found himself one-on-one against the Russian keeper but couldn’t convert the opportunity. However, obstruction by a defender gave the home side a penalty stroke, which Harmanpreet buried into the back of the net to give India the lead.
Russia though, cashed in on an error from the Indian defence and silenced the home crowd with an equaliser from Kuraev two minutes into the second quarter. Mandeep however, restored India’s lead with a stellar tomahawk into the bottom left corner to ensure the home side went into the half-time break with the lead.
The visitors fancied two excellent chances at the start of the third quarter but weren’t able to finish them, as India continued to stay in the lead. The Russian defence was formidable throughout the third period, much to the frustration of the Indian team as they struggled to create meaningful opportunities. India had seemingly won a penalty corner but a Russian team referral overruled the decision, adding to the dismay of the home side.
India continued to press for a third goal, pegging the Russian defence deeper and deeper into their striking circle. They finally succeeded in getting the breakthrough, after some brilliant solo work from Nilakanta Sharma along the baseline. His cut-in presented Sunil with the easiest of tap-ins, which the veteran made no mistake in capitalising upon.
All to play for
Mandeep scored his second, and India’s fourth, after some good interplay between the home side’s forwards, as they threatened to run riot in the final few minutes of the contest.
The Russian keeper was in the thick of things, saving a penalty corner and a strong shot to keep his team’s deficit at three. The visitors managed to earn a penalty corner of their own and drag-flicker Matkovskiy found the back of the net with a low shot to cut India’s lead down to two. The home side were also awarded two penalty corners in the dying moments but failed to convert them, as the match finished 4-2 in India’s favour.
The two teams will meet again on Saturday with a spot at Tokyo 2020 on the line.