Mandeep Singh struck twice as a below-par India struggled past minnows Russia 4-2 in the first-leg of the two-match hockey Olympic Qualifier here on Friday. Mandeep (24th, 53rd minutes) scored two field goals while Harmanpreet Singh (5th) and SV Sunil (48th) also hit the target for India.
It was an expected to be a 'David vs Goliath' contest going by the class and vast gap in world rankings between the two teams but world no. 22 Russia dished out a fighting effort to surprise the hosts and keep the difference of goals to just two. World no.5 India still can't breath easy as Russia clearly showed they are capable of creating an upset in the second and final match on Saturday.
The aggregate winner at the end of the two-match qualifier will seal its place for the 2020 Tokyo Games. Russia had the first shot at the goal in the third minute with Pavel Golubev showing quick-thinking from a free-hit, taking it himself but his backhand effort was blocked by India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. Two minutes later, Russia goalkeeper Marat Gafarov was called into action by India captain Manpreet Singh, whose first shot was saved but was fouled as he attempted his follow-up. The hosts made good use of the video referral to get a penalty stroke and Harmanpreet made no mistake.