New Delhi, Feb 26: Seldom have Delhi’s hockey fans enjoyed a match like they did at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium Sunday night. And so did the Indian team after making it to the 2012 London Olympics after eight years with a handsome 8-1 victory over France.
Having missed an Olympics (2008 Beijing) for the first time in 80 years, expectations were high this time from the eight-time Olympic champions. And they didn’t disappoint.
The celebrations for the holiday turn-out more or less began at the interval itself with India leading 3-1 and it reached a crescendo as Sandeep Singh kept converting penalty-corners soon on resumption. Not one, two, or three, he pumped in five in all this evening.
Sandeep had a staggering 16 goals in his kitty for the tournament to be rewarded with the tournament’s top goal-scorer.
Sandeep’s best friend Sardar Singh, who captained the team Sunday, was adjudged the Player of the Qualifiers for his outstanding performance.
The stadium was completely gripped by Sandeep Singh mania and even well after the match ended fans continued to chant his name.
For hockey lovers seeing India win a final after a long time at the historic stadium, which was the venue of the first Asian Games in 1951, was a pleasurable experience.
While barely a few thousand turned up all through out the week, a near capacity crowd filled the stadium Sunday.
In the last two years, the eight-time Olympic champions made the final here only once. They finished eighth in the 2010 World Cup and suffered the ignominy of losing 0-8 to superpower Australia in the final of the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
India didn’t disappoint the 15,000 fans, who had switched to the national sport after witnessing the humiliation of the cricket team in Australia.
The euphoric atmosphere boosted the Indian team, which went all out against the French. The deafening noise rattled the French, who were also subjected to jeers from the crowd after one of its players hit India’s Birendra Lakra.
“Losers, losers, losers,” shouted the fans to stump the French players.
For coach Michael Nobb the celebration began only when the eighth goal was struck and that, too, a mere hug for someone on the bench. The Australian showed remarkable equanimity even after the match as he went about patting and hugging the players without much emotion.
The players enjoyed the moment and the crowds were seen dancing even after the presentation ceremony.
Nobb knew his team would make it and he would have jotted down things his wards will have to do in London where they will be up against the real opposition.