New Delhi: India rode on Sandeep Singh's brilliance to virtually seal its place in the final of the men's hockey Olympic Qualification tournament after defeating Canada 3-2 in a hard-fought round-robin match here on Wednesday.
Sandeep (40th minute, 61st) converted two penalty corners to not only see India through in the pulsating encounter, but also increase his goal-tally to nine in the tournament.
Shivendra Singh (26th) scored the other goal for India, while Mark Pearson (50th) and Scot Tupper (53rd) found the target for Canada.
With four wins in four matches, India are more or less through to the summit clash of the tournament unless some surprising results in the last round hurt their cause.
A draw in the final match against Poland on Friday would be enough for the hosts to secure their place in the title clash.
Despite two wins and two defeats from four matches, the 14th ranked Canadians are still in the fray for a place in the final. They will now have to beat France in their last match and hope India beat Poland.
With nine points apiece, Poland and France are also in with a chance as the men's pool is still open going into the last round of games.
India were lackluster in the beginning and lost the ball frequently in the midfield.
Even though India had the bulk of possession in the first half, they lacked finishing inside the D. Initially, the Indians were also undone by a resolute and agile Canadian defensive line.
While India's penalty corner conversion against France was brilliant, they faltered on that front against Canada on Wednesday, converting just two out of the six in the match.
The home team earned two penalty corners in the first period but wasted both. India got their scoring chance as early as the third minute, but a brilliant Antoni Kindler, in the Canadian goal, denied Sandeep a chance to break the deadlock.
India squandered another penalty corner in the eighth minute when Danish Mujtaba failed to stop the ball cleanly.
It took India 26 minutes to surge ahead when Shivendra scored from a loose ball inside the circle.
In between, the Canadians had a few shots at the Indian goal but their forwards lacked finishing ability as the home team went into the breather with a 1-0 lead.
The Indians came out with more purpose after the resumption of play and pressed hard for goals. Luck denied Sunil just after the change of ends when his shot from inside the circle hit the top front bar of the goal-post and then S K Uthappa's shot was blocked by Kindler.
India, however, doubled their lead soon when Sandeep converted the hosts' fourth penalty corner with a fierce low flick which Canadian goalkeeper Kindler had no answer to.
If the moderate crowd present at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium thought it would be enough for India to seal their place in Sunday's final, there were in for a rude shock as Canada scored two quick goals to draw parity.
Pearson scored in the 50th minute from a goal-mouth melee, courtesy some sloppy defensive work from veteran Igance Tirkey, and then Tupper equalized three minutes later from Canada's first penalty corner.
But Sandeep ensured that the fans returned home with a smile on their faces when he scored the winner with a low dragflick.
Although India managed to earn another penalty corner in the last minute of the match, this time Sandeep's flick was blocked by a Canada defender.