Hamilton (New Zealand), 27 Jan 2018: With two quick-succession late goals, a higher-ranked India huffed and puffed to beat a lowly-ranked Japan 4-2 to remain unbeaten in the Four-Nation Invitational Hockey Tournament, second leg, here at the Gallagher Hockey Stadium on Saturday.
After beating New Zealand (3-2) and Belgium (5-4), India overcame a tough Japanese challenge with late goals by Mandeep Singh (58’) and Ramandeep Singh (58’) to win. The other goal scorers for India were Vivek Sagar Prasad (12’) and Varun Kumar (30’) while Seren Tanaka (14’) and Shota Yamada (43’) scored for Japan. India will next play World No.3 Belgium, who beat hosts New Zealand 4-0 to make the Final on Sunday.
India should improve their consistency against smaller teams aiming for larger margins. However, the trend of scoring goals at death is a welcome development and should be cultivated and improved without giving much room for counter attacks in the last five minutes. The match against Belgium will present another chance for the Indian coach to hone the mental skills of the players on the importance of `Important matches’, or medal-winning matches. For long India used to get quickly demoralised after losing entry into semifinals of big tournaments and instead of trying for better-placing have often lost focus, slipping to the bottom of the ranks. Because of this strange trait, India was at the receiving end of the rankings.
After keeping possession for better part in the first quarter, Indian men found their way into the Japanese striking circle and drew the first blood when Harjeet Singh dribbled found forward Arman Qureshi who released the ball without wasting anytime into the circle and an alert Vivek Sagar Prasad made a diving strike put India in the lead. Debutant Prasad is an upcoming player, with a penchant to create space and scoring opportunities. He has scored two goals till now in this tournament.
India were slightly dodgy the next few minutes after scoring the goal as they gave up possession and were punished when Japan broke into a quick counter-attack, slicing the field through the left flank. It was Seren Tanaka who drove into the Indian circle, beating the defenders and struck the ball past the Indian goalkeeper for the equaliser. The teams went into the 2nd quarter at 1-1.
India increased the pace of the game with repeated attacks while Japan turned its strategy into a defensive game but conceded a short corner 30th minute when Varun Kumar sent a piercing-cross into the Japanese circle where a heavily-marked Indian forward Lalit Upadhyay found his short pass hit a rival foot. Though the variation did not fetch a goal, India won another PC and Varun Kumar found the target with a neat drag flick to make it 2-1.
Both teams traded PCs at the start of the third quarter. While it was India who won their third PC in the 32nd minute, Harmanpreet Singh’s flick was well-saved by Japanese goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa. Then Japan immediately won a PC and wasted it. A fierce counterattack, then helped India take a shot at the rival goal, but the powerful reverse hit by Vivek Prasad went straight to the rival goalie. But it was Japan who struck the equaliser following another set-piece drill in the 43rd minute when Shota Yamada converted their second short corner with a smart variation catching the Indian custodian Krishan Pathak off-guard.
Japan did well the next quarter, cutting down space, making India work hard to find opportunities. Japan missed a golden chance to take a 3-2 lead muffing a penalty stroke by Shota Yamada who was wide of the target. For India, Harjeet Singh created another great opportunity to score when he picked up a quick pass by skipper Manpreet Singh to turn around, beat the Japanese defender on top of the circle to strike towards the post and it was Mandeep Singh who deflected in an improvised fashion to convert a 3-2 lead in the 58th minute. Within a few seconds, India scored again. Ramandeep Singh beautifully worked out from the top of the circle to find the target to round off India’s 4-2 win.
On Sunday, the 28th January, India will take on Belgium in the final of the second leg at 8.30 am IST.
New Zealand Hockey is live streaming the matches on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nzblacksticks
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