Defending champions and Olympic bronze medallists India suffered a stunning 3-5 defeat against Japan in the second semifinal of the Asian Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament in Dhaka on Tuesday.
India, despite missing quite a few names from their Tokyo 2020 squad, were the favourites before the start of the match after having defeated the same opponents 6-0 in their last round-robin match and also leading significantly on head-to-head record, but the Japanese had other plans. They looked a completely different side on Tuesday as they toyed with the defence of the Manpreet Singh-led side from the beginning.
Japan scored through Shota Yamada (1st minute, penalty), Raiki Fujishima (2nd minute), Yoshiki Kirishita (14th), Kosei Kawabe (35th) and Ryoma Ooka (41st). India’s goals were scored by Hardik Singh (17th, 58th minute) and vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh (43rd). The scoreline, if anything, was a little flattering for the Indians with two late goals coming in when the match was all but done.
“Can’t quite describe that,” Manpreet said after the match. “It is not the result we wanted. We were lazy a bit at the start, conceded a goal in the first minute and then the second minute. Big lesson for us that we can’t underestimate any team, we need to ready for the match tomorrow.”
Joint winners of the previous edition, India and Pakistan will now face in the bronze medal match on Wednesday. Earlier in the day, Pakistan lost 5-6 in a thriller against Korea who will now take on Japan in the final.
India and Japan had met 18 times before with the hosts winning 16 games, while Japan emerged victorious on one occasion and one ended in a draw.
The quest for the title end in a anti-climax for India as after having topped the round robin stages with an unbeaten record. India had won three and drawn one of their previous matches before the semis on Tuesday.
A slow start by India proved too costly for them as the Japanese attack made vital inroads into the Indian defence in the first two minutes of the game. They scored back-to-back goals from a penalty stroke in the first minute by Yamada and in the second minute a PC well-struck by Fujishima. Japan earned as many as six penalty corners in the first five minutes or so of the match.
Although India looked like they would overcome the initial 2-0 setback when Dilpreet Singh opened the account for India in the 17th minute with a field goal, India could not convert from the chances they created. In the 20th minute, India found a brilliant opportunity to equalise with their first PC of the match. But the chance went begging when young Nilam Sanjeep Xess could not convert. Although skipper Manpreet Singh teamed up with Gursahibjit Singh to try to fetch a goal from the rebound, the latter could not connect the ball well to put it past the Japanese goalie.
In the meantime, Japan forced yet another infringement by India which saw them win another penalty stroke of the match. This time, Kirishita put the ball past Krishan Pathak who had replaced Suraj Karkera at the goal post in the second quarter.
Going into the half time break with 3-1 lead, Japan returned to the pitch for the third quarter with more ammunition in their attack. They were relentless in their pursuit to ensure they stayed ahead of India and their tight defensive structure meant that the Indian attackers would be kept at bay. Though India played the third quarter with a better structure, and gave away just one goal in the 41st minute, the goal-difference proved too big for a comeback in the final moments of the match.
While Harmanpreet and Hardik fetched a goal each for India in the final quarter, it was simply not enough to stop Japan from going into the final.