Asian Champions Trophy: Japan stun India 5-3 to set up title clash against Korea | Hockey - Hindustan Times

Clinical Japan eliminate India in Asian Champions Trophy semis

By, New Delhi
Dec 21, 2021 10:43 PM IST

The 2018 Asian Games champions beat the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists 5-3 in Dhaka to set up a final against South Korea. India will face Pakistan in the bronze playoff.

Japan stunned India 5-3 to storm into the final of the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka on Tuesday. Led by the inspirational Seren Tanaka, the Asian Games champions put on an exhibition of attacking hockey, their tireless runs into the circle bringing India’s defence under huge pressure and creating many scoring opportunities.

Indian men's hockey team(Twitter/Hockey India)
Indian men's hockey team(Twitter/Hockey India)

The victory margin could have been bigger but for two penalty corner (PC) conversions by Harmanpreet Singh and Hardik Singh in the last quarter. Japan went on the offence early, and once they seized momentum there was no let up. India, the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists who had hammered Japan 6-0 on Sunday, were shaken by the onslaught.

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Japan’s dominance was such that statistics and the scoreline are inadequate to describe the game. They had more shots on goal (9 to India’s 6) though India had more circle entries (23 to 19) and better possession (54% to Japan’s 46%). Elite coaches though say that what matters more than possession is what a team does with that. Japan made the most of theirs.

India started with the in-form Shilanand Lakra and Dilpreet Singh on the bench while Suraj Karkera, Man-of-the-Match in the last game against Japan, was on the goal, ahead of Krishan Pathak.

Starting with a 4-3-3 formation, India made the first circle entry within seconds of the pushback, but Japan initiated a counter that led to the first PC of the match within the first minute. The drag flick struck the foot of an Indian defender in front of the goalmouth and Shota Yamada converted the resultant penalty stroke.

Next minute, Japan made another circle entry, and Kenta Tanaka’s appeal for PC for a high ball was accepted. The PC doubled the lead, Raiki Fujishima’s drag flick beating Karkera. The breathless opening minutes resulted in Japan winning five PCs and surging to a 2-0 lead. The tone was set.

The attacks kept arriving in waves. Such was Japan's speed that at one point in the first quarter, forwards Lalit Upadhyay and Gursahibjit Singh left their position and rushed back to shore up the defence. India pulled one back in the second quarter (17th min) when Shilanand Lakra’s cross from the right found Manpreet Singh, whose accurate push to Dilpreet in the circle was converted by the in-form forward.

That, however, had little impact on Japan, who continued the high press. The blistering moves of skipper Seren Tanaka and experienced forward Kenta Tanaka ripped open the Indian midfield, shutting out any chance of a reasonable response. With less than two minutes to go in the quarter, Japan struck again via a penalty stroke by Yoshiki Kirishita to reclaim their two-goal advantage.

With India trailing 1-3, head coach Graham Reid told the host broadcaster with a wistful smile, “We need to wake up. Right now, Japan seem to want it more than us.”

The Australian had sounded caution ahead of the group match against Japan as well, indicating the high regard in which he viewed their attacking style. True to form, Japan came flying off the blocks in the second half.

India had a couple of chances though, but Manpreet’s pass failed to reach Upadhyay or Shamsher Singh inside the circle, and moments later when Shamsher entered the D and attempted to cross to Lalit, the shot went wide.

There was no such miss with Japan though. Showing remarkable game awareness, they made it 4-1 in the third quarter. The Indian defence froze, perhaps waiting for the umpire’s whistle which never came, after a pass in India’s D struck the foot of Nilam Sanjeep Xess. Japan played advantage and scored through Kosei Kawabe. Before India could catch their breath, Kenta Tanaka’s defence-splitting dribble and laser-guided pass was slotted in by Ryoma Ooka to make it 5-1.

Needing to score an improbable five goals in 15 minutes, India squandered two PCs due to faulty trapping and poor injection before Harmanpreet Singh and Hardik Singh converted a PC each to earn some consolation.

“I think we were a bit lazy,” skipper Manpreet Singh said after the match. “It is a lesson for us. The result proves we can’t take any team lightly.”

Earlier, Pakistan lost their semi-final to South Korea 6-5.

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