Bhubaneshwar: The Indian men’s hockey team on Saturday qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics with a 7-1 drubbing of 22nd ranked Russia in the second leg of their Olympic qualifiers here.
World No. 5 India came into the match with a 4-2 lead in the first leg, which meant that the aggregate score at the end of the match was 11-3 in their favour.
The hosts were given an early scare with Russia scoring within the first 25 seconds of the match. Alexey Sobolevskiy scored after Russia charged at an unprepared Indian defence.
It looked like the match might follow a similar script to that of the women’s qualifier earlier in the night, in which India squandered a 5-1 first leg lead and had to depend on skipper Rani Rampal’s late strike to pull off a 6-5 aggregate win over a resurgent USA to seal their place in the Olympics.
But the Indian men maintained their composure and slowly but surely started asserting themselves against their opponents, who were the lowest ranked team in the draw for the Olympic qualifiers.
However, it was a jittery first quarter for the hosts. They dominated possession but couldn’t get too many shots at goal. They had one penalty corner in the first quarter which came to nothing. The first quarter ended with India holding a slender one-goal lead on aggregate.
Two minutes into the second quarter, Lalit Upadhyay managed to get his stick on Hardik Singh’s shot to double India’s aggregate lead. Akashdeep Singh then scored twice in the 23rd and 29th minute to put clear daylight between his side and the Russians.
At half time, India led 3-1, taking the aggregate score to 7-3.
Russia then pulled up their socks to ensure that they didn’t concede any more goal in the third quarter. They also created a good chance, but the final shot was woefully off target. But by the end of the quarter, the Russians cut a tired figure and finally buckled in the fourth quarter.
Nilakanta Sharma, Amit Rohidas and Rupinder Singh (2) found the back of the net in the final quarter as India pumped in four goals past Russia to seal an emphatic victory.