Playing to a plan, India outpaced South Africa 5-1 to win the FIH Men’s Hockey Series Finals in front of their home fans here on Saturday. Asian Games Champion Japan beat the USA 4-2 to claim the third place.?
India and South Africa have earned a berth in the FIH Olympic qualifiers.?
India lived up to their supremacy in the FIH World Rankings. It did not take them very long to take the lead with a goal from Varun Kumar from a penalty corner. The hosts mostly played in South Africa’s half during the first quarter and doubled their lead, with another penalty corner; this time from Harmanpreet Singh.?
South Africa spared no effort to come back into the match but they struggled to create good chances. And it was India who added another goal to their tally with a penalty stroke ?from Harmanpreet Singh. At Half-time India led 3-0.
At the start of the second half, South Africa missed a good opportunity which, if converted, would have given hope and confidence to the African champions. Instead of that, India ?took a 4-goal advantage through Vivek Prasad who converted from a short distance as a result of an offering from Simranjeet Singh after brilliant dribbling in the circle.?
South Africa were determined to find the target and they were a step away from doing so on two consecutive attempts from Keenan Horne and Richard Pautz towards the end of the ?third quarter.?
The final quarter of this tournament saw the home team continue attacking and Varun Kumar scored his second penalty corner. He too was taking his goal tally in this event to six,? therefore joining Harmanpreet Singh -- later chosen Man of the Match -- and Semen Matkovskiy at the top of the goalscorer standings. ?
Meanwhile, the African champions also found the target as Richard Pautz was in the right place to hit the ball over the goal-line from a penalty corner. ?
After the win, captain Manpreet Singh said, "This was quite a good tournament. We did well and can improve as well. We will work in the camp. Next step is in November (qualifiers), we will prepare for our opponents there."
India’s head coach Graham Reid said: “It was a really interesting tournament. There are always things which we can improve. I think that the areas that we worked on in the last two-three months,? we’ll be continuing. The boys will now have a couple of weeks off, spend time with their families and recharge their batteries. Then we have a really hard month in July and we go ?to the Olympic Games’ test event in Tokyo in August. It will be a busy period.”?
South Africa’s head coach Garreth Ewing opined: “First, we’ll take from this tournament a step to the next round. It was really good for us to spend some time together as a team. The first couple of games were tough but we progressed nicely, then we found our rhythm and we were very competitive and really happy to play against India in the final. We lost to a very good team tonight.”?
Earlier in a match for the third place, true to the tactical principles they had showcased since the beginning of the tournament, Japan immediately started to put pressure on the USA while the North Americans were defensively well-organised and ready to seize every opportunity to move quickly upfront.?
On one of their first counter-attacks, the USA won a penalty corner which Aki Kaeppeler converted into the first goal of this match for third place. ?
However, Japan reacted quickly and following a drag-flick from a penalty corner by Yoshiki Kirishita, Kazuma Murata found the target one minute later.?
Japan continued to attack and were close to taking the lead after a nice combination inside the circle but the US defence intervened. Half way through the second quarter, the Asian champions were awarded a penalty stroke. However, Hirotaka Zendana missed the target.?
The Asian champions did not give up and in the same quarter they got another penalty stroke which, this time, Yoshiki Kirishita converted, therefore giving his side a 2-1 lead. In the meantime, Japan’s goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa had denied a further scoring opportunity for the USA with a brilliant save.?
The second half started with repeated attacks from Japan on USA’s goal. But, despite a plethora of great chances, they were either unable to find the target or were thwarted by US goalkeeper Daniel Wisselink -- later elected Man of the Match -- who was having an outstanding day. Meanwhile, Rutger Wiese’s team always looked dangerous on the break.?
The dying moments of the game were just thrilling. With one minute to go, the USA managed to get back into the match with a second goal from Aki Kaeppeler from a penalty corner. A shootout competition was looming … but the team of Captain Mohan Gandhi had hardly celebrated their equaliser when they conceded two goals from Kenta Tanaka before the final whistle!?
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