Spirited Japan humble defending champions India 5-3 In Asian Hockey Champions Trophy semi-final
New Delhi, December 21, 2021
High-flying India crashed with big thud as Japan humbled the defending champions 5-3 to storm into the final of Hero Asian Hockey Champions Trophy in Dhaka (Bangladesh) on Tuesday.
But for the two goals in late stages of the game, Indian would have fared worst.
For Japan, Shota Yamada (1st minute, Stroke), Raiki Fujishima (2nd), Yoshiki Kirishita (14th), Kosei Kawabe (35th) and Ryoma Ooka (41st) were the goal getters.
Hardik Singh (17th, 58th) and Harmanpreet Singh (43rd) scored for the losers.
Japan will take on Korea in the final while India and Pakistan will battle it out for the third place. Korea beat Pakistan 6-5 in the other semi-final.
In less than a month, Indian hockey lost two titles. They could not defend the Junior World Cup title in Bhubaneshwar and this evening bowed out of title race losing to Japan for only the second time in the 19 meetings.
India had thrashed Japan 6-0 on Sunday to top the round robin league with ten points (3 wins and a draw) and were expected to repeat that performance in the semi-finals, given the form they had displayed in the league.
The Asian Games champions Japan, however, had other game plans and they executed it to the perfection and avenged their league defeat in a match which mattered the most in the tournament.
Not only the Japanese dethroned the fancied Indians but also left the defending champions red-faced by outplaying them in every department of the game.
That the Indians were caught totally off guard by Japanese blitzkrieg was very obvious. The Manpreet Singh-led side, still in celebratory mood having won that bronze medal in Olympics and having chalked out runway success in the league in which they scored 20 goals while conceding three in four outings, never expected such a ferocious response from Japan.
Overconfident and a bit complacent, India was rudely shaken by the Japan’s fast paced all-out attacking style as the match opened.
The Japanese forced five penalty corners in the first two minutes and were 2-0 up before the Indians could fathom what was happening on the turf in the Maulana Bhashani Stadium.
Japan set awesome pace from the start and the much-fancied Indians just failed to match that tempo from the first minute to the last.
The Asian Games champion made crucial inroads into the Indian defence before Harmanpreet and company could settle down.
In the first two minutes of the game they scored back-to-back goals from a penalty stroke in the 1st minute by Yamada and in the 2nd minute a penalty corner well-struck by Fujishima.
India tried to regroup and in the 17th minute reduced the gap through Hardik Singh (1-2) raising hopes of a fightback but after that they could not convert from the chances they created.
In the 20th minute, India earned their first penalty corner but the chance went begging as Nilam Sanjeep Xess failed to convert. Although skipper Manpreet Singh teamed up with Gursahibjit Singh to try to fetch a goal from the rebound, the latter could not connect the ball well to put it past the goalkeeper.
In the meantime, Japan forced yet another infringement by India which saw them win another penalty stroke of the match. This time, Kirishita put the ball past Krishan Pathak who had replaced Suraj Karkera at the goal post in the second quarter (3-1).
After half-time there was no let-up in Japan's domination as they were relentless in their pursuit to stay ahead and their tight defensive tactics kept the Indian attackers at bay.
Though India displayed better cohesion in the third quarter and conceded one goal in the 41st minute, the goal-difference proved too big for a comeback in the final moments of the match.
While Harmanpreet and Hardik fetched a goal each for India in the final quarter, it was simply not enough to stop Japan from going into the final.
After the defeat, a much-subdued Manpreet Singh said, "I can't describe (how i am feeling). It was a lazy start. This is not the result we expected. Big lessons for us. We cannot underestimate any team. Big match tomorrow.”
Japan skipper and player of the match Seren Tanaka was elated but realistic in his comments. “Did not believe that we could beat India. Last time, we had a great chance but today we captalised on opportunities. Hope we head back to Japan as champions," he added.