Striker Mandeep Singh scored a brilliant hat-trick as India outplayed Canada 7-3 to book a summit clash berth against Korea in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament at Ipoh, Malaysia on Wednesday. Korea beat hosts Malaysia 2-1 in another match of the day to set up a summit clash against India on Saturday. The 24-year-old Mandeep fired in three quick field goals (20th, 27th and 29th minutes), all of them coming in the second quarter, after Varun Kumar had given India the lead in the 12th minute of the high-scoring match. At the half time, India were 4-0 up in the match before Canada reduced the margin through a strike from Mark Pearson in the 35th minute. Amit Rohidas (39th), Vivek Prasad (55th) and Nilakanta Sharma (58th) struck later to take the game beyond the reach of the Canadians who scored two late goals through Fin Boothroyd (50th) and James Wallace (57th).
India and Korea, the two unbeaten sides in the tournament, now have 10 points each from four matches, with identical three wins and a draw. They both booked a berth in the final with a game in hand to be played on Friday.
India play Poland (zero point) in their final league match on Friday while Korea take on Japan (3 points from 4 matches) on the same day.
Malaysia are third in the league table with six points with one match left to play. India and Korea had played out a 1-1 draw in the league stage on March 24. India showed progress match-by-match in the tournament with improved structure and discipline as they took on an unpredictable Canadian side. India had beaten Canada 5-1 in the group stage at the 2018 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 to India winning a penalty corner in the 12th minute which was converted by Varun Kumar, scoring his third goal of the tournament.
India built on the momentum in the second quarter and made several circle entries. Sumit Kumar Jr once again created an opportunity when he sent a fine pass to Mandeep who simply had to deflect the ball into the goal, 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' flick.
India earned two more penalty corners in the following minutes but failed to convert them. 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 their sway. Midfielder Kothajit Singh dispossessed a Canadian player to make a brilliant assist to Mandeep from the 25m mark. Mandeep made no mistake in sending it past Canada goalkeeper Antoni Kindler.
Mandeep then combined with Sumit before scoring his third goal of the day and complete his hat-trick in the 29th minute as India were 4-0 at half-time.
India continued to control the game with good ball possession and gave few opportunities for Canada to make a comeback.
However, an infringement by an 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.
The Canadian goal did not deter the Indians as they powered through with speed and finesse in their attack. Amit Rohidas' 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 down 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 score a fine field goal to take India's 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 through James Wallace.
Mandeep was awarded the man-of-the-match for his fine hat-trick. Indian team manager Chris Ciriello was happy at the performance of his players but felt that they could have done more in the later stages of the match. "We go into every match wanting to win and against Canada, we had the early advantage with the 4-0 lead. The penalty corner conversion could have been better, but the field attempts make up for it," he said. "Our focus is on one match at a time," he added.
Canada coach Paul Bundy said he was not happy at the way the team started the match. "We lacked our usual hard work and discipline. That is not the way Canada plays India in the opening stages. We were better in the third and fourth quarters. We had some good chances as well but overall we have to look at our performance and feel let down," he said.