Ipoh: It was fast, it was thrilling, and it was a scintillating performance by both India and Japan in Ipoh; unfortunately, there could be just one winner, and India edged the match 4-3 with just five minutes left on the clock, on Wednesday.
Forward Mandeep Singh was the star of the show, as he scored a hat-trick, to lead his side to their second victory in their fourth match in the tournament.
A jaded looking India came out to the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium on Wednesday, with the unfortunate news that their captain and first choice goalkeeper PR Sreejesh had been ruled out for around three months, due to a torn meniscus in his knee.
However, Rolant Oltman’s men came out all guns blazing in the opening exchanges, with defender Rupinder Pal Singh making an early foray into the Japan penalty area; his shot however, was wide of the target.
The 26-year-old opened the scoring a few minutes later though, as he drag-flicked a penalty corner into the roof of the Japan net.
It took Japan just five minutes to get back on level terms with India though, as Kazuma Murata did well to get onto the end of a cross from the right flank, and turn it into an empty goal.
The tight schedule seemed to have taken its toll on the Indian players, as the match wore on at a much slower pace in the second quarter. By Q3, it was clearly visible that the Indians, who kept most of the possession, were struggling to defend the lightning-fast Japanese counter attacks.
Japan exploited this on the 43rd minute, as Heita Yoshihara carried the ball from the half-way line, and pulled the trigger from just inside the India penalty area, beating goalkeeper Akash Chikte on the far post.
It took India only two minutes to equalise, as Mandeep showed some brilliant presence of mind to deflect a shot from outside the area, into the goal. Incidentally, nobody realised that Mandeep had actually scored, until the video referral was used.
However, Japan immediately got back on the attack from the restart. Genki Mitani latched on to a scuffled clearance from the Indian defenders, and smashed it into the net.
Despite looking jaded, India came out with a lot of purpose in Q4, and it was the man of the hour Mandeep, who guided them over the finish line in the end.
Talwinder crossed the ball across goal from the right flank, and Mandeep, who was positioned at the far post, did well to get his stick in front of the defenders, and tap it into an empty net.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Mandeep broke the Japanese hearts, as he latched on to a pass from Rupinder, turned an opposition defender, and fired it into goal on the reverse, handing India the win.
Although India had come out with a more attacking game, Japan came out tactically superior, though it was Mandeep’s genius that helped India get the three points in the end.