Olympic qualifier: Mandeep Singh scores a brace as India beat minnows Russia 4-2
Striker's brace saves India the blushes against minnows Russia in first Olympic Qualifer; SV Sunil, Harmanpreet add a goal each in 4-2 scoreline
Bhubaneshwar: Mandeep Singh struck twice as a below-par India struggled past minnows Russia 4-2 in the first-leg of the two-match hockey Olympic qualifier here yesterday. Mandeep (24th, 53rd minutes) scored two field goals while Harmanpreet Singh (5th) and SV Sunil (48th) also hit the target for India. It was an expected to be a David v Goliath contest but World No. 22 Russia dished out a fighting effort.
Russia look threatening
World No. 5 India still can't breathe easy as Russia could create an upset in the second and final match on Saturday. The aggregate winner at the end of the two-match qualifier will seal its place for the 2020 Tokyo Games. India were dominant, but it was far from a cakewalk for the hosts as two minutes later, Sreejesh was forced to make another save before the Russians won a penalty corner. However, the chance went wasted because of a miss-trap at the top of the circle from Iaroslav Loginov.
But two minutes into the second quarter, Russia equalised through a field strike from Andrey Kuraev, who after receiving an overhead pass, cut across the top of the circle before guiding his shot into the bottom left corner past India's second goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak. Minutes later, Sergey Lepeshkin almost handed Russia the lead but his angled deflection from Evgeny Artemov's pass, missed the top corner of the Indian goal by a fraction.
Goalie Gafarov shines
India, however, restored their lead in the 24th minute through Mandeep. Just at the stroke of half-time, India secured their first penalty corner but Harmanpreet's attempt was kept away by Gafarov as the hosts went into the break with a slender 2-1 lead. The Russians made a bright start to the third quarter creating two good chances, the second of which almost produced the equaliser.
The Russian visitors matched their skillful and fancied opponents stick for stick but India somehow managed to hold on to their slender lead at the end of the third quarter. After wasting their second penalty corner, India finally got some breathing space by extending their lead in the 48th minute through Sunil. Mandeep scored his second goal in the 53rd minute from a counter attack to make the scoreline 4-1.
Another last-minute goal Russia scored a vital second goal in the last minute through a penalty corner conversion by the hardworking Semen Matkovskiy.
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