Indian men's hockey team continued their winning form at the on-going 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019 as they beat Canada 7-3 in a high-scoring match that enthralled the Malaysian spectators here on Wednesday.
With this win, India have topped the pool standings with 10 points from three wins and a draw. India will take on Poland on March 28.
It was striker Mandeep Singh who starred in India's win with a brilliant hat-trick of goals in the 20th, 27th and 29th minute while Varun Kumar opened the scoreboard in the 12th minute with a powerful conversion of a penalty corner and Amit Rohidas scored the team's fifth goal in the 39th minute through a penalty corner.
Youngsters Vivek Sagar Prasad and Nilakanta Sharma too contributed to the score-line with splendid field goals in the 55th and 58th minute respectively that ensured India were on course for the final on Sunday. For Canada, Mark Pearson (35'), Fin Boothroyd (50') and James Wallace (57') scored the goals.
India showed progress match-by-match with improved structure and discipline as they took on an unpredictable Canadian side against whom they had won 5-1 when they previously met in the group stage at the 2018 Odisha Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
India made an attacking start that put the opponents on the back-foot early in the match. A quick circle entry by Sumit Kumar Jr resulted in the team winning a penalty corner in the 12th minute, which was well-struck by Varun Kumar, scoring his third goal of the tournament.
India built on this momentum in the second quarter and made fierce circle entries. Sumit Kumar Jr once again created a fine opportunity when he assisted a fine pass to Mandeep Singh who simply had to deflect the ball into the post, taking India's lead to 2-0.
In the following minute, Surender Kumar created a penalty corner for India but an alert Canadian goalkeeper made a good save off Amit Rohidas's flick. India earned two more penalty corners in the following minutes but could not convert, meanwhile, Canada earned their first penalty corner in the 26th minute, but drag-flicker Gordon Johnston sent the ball wide.
Continuing to use full-press to their advantage, India held its sway. Midfielder Kothajit Singh dispossessed Canadian player to make a brilliant assist to Mandeep from the 25m mark. Mandeep made no mistake in sending it past Canada's goalkeeper Antoni Kindler. Mandeep and Sumit remained India's cynosures in the forward line as the two strikers set up yet another fine goal for India that took the team's total to a strong 4-0 ahead of half-time.
India controlling the game, with good ball possession and tactful play gave fewer opportunities for Canada to come back. However, an infringement by Indian defender gave away Canada's second penalty corner in the 35th minute. Mark Pearson ensured the opportunity was not lost as he put the ball past India goalkeeper Krishan Pathak with a powerful flick.
Conceding a goal did not deter India's game as they powered through with speed and finesse in their attack. Amit Rohidas's goal in the 39th minute helped India take a 5-1 lead going into the final quarter which saw a goal-fest with both teams scoring two goals each.
Though Canada narrowed the lead to 2-5 in the 50th minute, an excellent long-aerial ball by Varun Kumar to Mandeep in the circle helped him assist Vivek Sagar Prasad to score a fine field goal taking the lead to 6-2.
Nilakanta Sharma finished the game for India on a fine note as he converted a good assist from Hardik Sigh in the 58th minute which was a fitting reply to Canada's previous goal through a penalty corner in the 57th minute by James Wallace. Mandeep was awarded the man of the match for his efforts in the forward line.