India beat Japan 8-0; to play SA next
After a goal-less first half, Harmanpreet and Co got into the act to seal a much-needed win
Even though it was a little too late, the goals came in plenty. Eight to be precise that too against a team who are the reigning Asian Games gold medallists and could prove to be a challenge in Hangzhou for the only berth 2023 Asiad will provide for Paris 2024.
India hammered the world No 18 Japan 8-0 in the 9-16 classification playoff at the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela and will now play their final game of the World Cup, a 9-12 position contest against South Africa at the same venue on Saturday.
A victory would mean that India would finish either ninth or 10th while a loss would result in 11th or 12th. India’s worst finish at a World Cup came in London 1986 when ended 12th and last. The current format of the quadrennial tournament has 16 teams.
Goals and form that should have come against New Zealand in the crossover contest on Sunday in Bhubaneswar, poured in against Japan with six Indian players marking their names on the scoresheet.
While Player of the Match Abhishek (35th and 43rd) and skipper Harmanpreet Singh (45th and 58th) scored a brace each, Mandeep Singh (32nd), Vivek Sagar Prasad (39th), former captain Manpreet Singh (58th) and Sukhjeet Singh (59th) scored a goal each. “I am very happy after scoring the two goals. This victory will also boost our morale ahead of the game on Saturday,” said Abhishek.
It was a weird contest divided into two halves. The first half saw both teams playing a scrappy game with players regularly and easily losing ball possession, making elementary errors like they did against Wales and New Zealand last week.
But it was as if almost a different Indian team stepped onto the field in the second goal where they scored eight goals in 27 minutes.
The hosts had 19 shots on goal in comparison to Japan’s seven and 32 circle penetrations to Japan’s 14. The possession too was telling with India dominating play, maintaining 69 percent of the ball.
Significantly, India converted five of their 11 penalty corners (PC) which is an impressive 45.45% conversion rate – the best they have had in this tournament. The monkey is also off the back of India’s main drag-flicker Harmanpreet, who had until this match scored only one goal which came against Wales.
Both teams played an even contest in the first quarter, showing offensive intent but neither team could manage to create a clear scoring opportunity. India had the best chances through two PCs but they were well chased down by the Japanese rushers.
The second quarter was much of the same as both India and Japan found ways to get into the opposition circle, but were instantly hounded by opposing defences. Both teams earned PCs early in the second quarter as well but the rushers reigned supreme as the teams headed into the break 0-0.
India won a PC early in the second half and they went for a variation on the far post with Amit Rohidas passing to Mandeep, who lifted the ball over the keeper and into the net to open the scoring. India scored a quick second goal as a poor turnover in their own half by Japan gave Manpreet the ball and he found Abhishek in the circle who had all the time and space needed to calmly score on the reverse.
Prasad then added a third as the Japanese defence seemed to buckle under the constant pressure applied by a rampant Indian attack. Abhishek scored his second and India’s fourth goal, bringing up the 200th goal of this World Cup.
India scored four more in the final quarter as Harmanpreet (twice) and Sukhjeet found the target from PCs while Manpreet scored a field goal that deflected in off a Japanese stick, to give India a huge win.