India blank Japan, enter Asian Champions Trophy hockey semis | Hockey - Hindustan Times
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India blank Japan, enter Asian Champions Trophy hockey semis

By, New Delhi
Dec 19, 2021 09:38 PM IST

Harmanpreet Singh scored his second brace in as many matches as India win 6-0 to continue their unbeaten run in the tournament in Dhaka.

Continuing their unbeaten run at the Asian Champions Trophy in Dhaka, Manpreet Singh-led India blanked Asian Games champions Japan 6-0 to top the table and reach the semi-finals.

India men's hockey team
India men's hockey team

Harmanpreet Singh converted two penalty corners and Dilpreet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Sumit and Shamsher Singh scored delightful field goals to cap a dominating performance by the defending champions.

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The star of the day though was goalkeeper Suraj Karkera, who effected a series of stunning saves in the second half to ensure a third successive clean sheet for the Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists.

India maintained a full-press tactic that served them well against Pakistan and Bangladesh, testing the Japanese defence from both flanks. Dominating in attack and resolute in defence, they were occasionally surprised by the Japanese pace but maintained the structure.

Japan, perhaps wary of India’s attacking might, played with a 4-4-2 formation instead of the usual 4-3-3, but India brought that to naught with a brace of circle entries within the first two minutes.

Shilanand Lakra, who impressed against Bangladesh, continued his good form on Sunday, his blinding runs down the flanks creating a number of opportunities. He earned India their first penalty corner. Drag-flick specialist Harmanpreet couldn’t convert the first onr, but hit the defender’s foot that earned him another penalty corner. Harmanpreet went to the goalkeeper’s right this time and put India 1-0 ahead.

Japan pressed hard. They first dispossessed Shamsher Singh on the left to enter India’s D, and minutes later Kenta Tanaka’s fierce pass from outside the circle just eluded his teammate waiting at the Indian goalmouth for a tap-in.

Finishing remained an issue for both teams, more so for Japan. Tanaka’s lung-busting runs in the final third created some exciting chances, but they went abegging due to timely interceptions by the Indian defence that put the advancing Japanese to serious test.

At halftime, Japanese coach Akira Takahashi vowed to attack more, and his wards responded with a circle entry in the first minute of the second half. However, they ran into an unflappable Karkera, who saved a rasping Tomahwak (reverse hit) from Tanaka.

Next quarter, Tanaka again outpaced the Indian defenders but his thundering cross was not meet by a Japanese stick for a tap-in. Tanaka came close to scoring twice more, but the first of his reverse hits went wide and goalkeeper Krishna Pathak closed the angle of the second with a daring charge to deny him in a one-on-one battle.

For India, the most glaring miss arrived in the last minute of the first quarter when Dilpreet found an in-form Lalit Upadhyay inside the circle, but the forward couldn’t beat the Japanese custodian. Then, in the second quarter, soon after going 2-0 up, Jaskaran Singh received a delicious pass from Akashdeep Singh but he hit over the bar.

India’s field goals

Harmanpreet’s brilliance with drag-flicks contributed to two of India’s goals, but what should delight them more is the field goals, scored through some delectable short passes.

Case in point is India’s second goal. The scoresheet mentions Dilpreet as the scorer, but the move began at the halfline when Shamsher poached the ball and passed to Shilanand, who dribbled past the midfield to find Dilpreet, who converted with clinical precision.

There was some individual brilliance too from Jarmanpreet in the third quarter. The 25-year-old received the ball at the top of D, and against the run of play, let go a wicked reverse strike that flew into the top of net to put India 3-0 ahead.

Sumit got on the scoresheet early in the last quarter when he pouched on a soft rebound from goalkeeper and pushed one into the net. Harmanpreet then scored his second of the day before Shilanand mounted an attack from the left and sent a rasping pass to Shamsher, who made it 6-0.

Speaking to the official broadcaster after the match, Man-of-the-Match Karkera lauded the defence. “We defended as a team. Krishna and I know that we are the second and third choice goalkeepers respectively, so it is imperative we make each opportunity count. We have big shoes to fill in Sreejesh’s absence,” the 26-year-old said.

India will play their semi-final on December 21.

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