Japan beat India 2-1 to win the women’s hockey gold medal at the 18th Asian Games in Jakarta on Friday.

India started off a little slowly as Japan piled on the pressure with some hard running. But the first good chance of the game came to India’s captain Rani Rampal in the fourth minute but she sent the rebound wide.

It was an even game from that point on until Japan scored first with their first penalty corner in the 11th minute. A well-worked variation saw Shimizu Minami score with a lovely deflection that gave Indian goalkeeper Savita no chance. And that is how the first quarter ended.

The second quarter began and India were just being able to keep possession. Not even once did they manage to string together 5-6 passes and that was hurting them. Rani and Vandana needed to be much more proactive. As they were, the Japanese defenders were able to come at them from the front and block off the angles.

And then finally, a goal arrived through a wonderful counterattack in the 25th minute. For once, India were quick on the uptake and Navneet Kaur’s shot across the face of goal was neatly deflected in by Neha Goyal.

India went into half-time with the game nicely poised.

First half statistics.
First half statistics.

Third quarter began with Japanese employing the high press on India. The pressure meant that India would need to pass better or risk losing possession and the Indian defence was distinctly uncomfortable with the tactic. No other team had done the same in this tournament.

And that is how it remained till the last couple of minutes of the quarter.

Another variation from their second PC, this time a reverse hit, did the trick and Japan took a 2-1 lead in the 44th minute. Motomi Kawamura played the ball to left and then when everybody expected her to pass, she surprisingly took a reverse hit. Savita had already fallen on the ground and the ball went past to the right corner.

India were pretty decent in the third quarter but unlucky to concede late. It meant they would be under intense pressure in the final 15 minutes.

Poor tactics in the fourth quarter saw India once again struggle to keep possession. They were guilty of holding on to the ball for too long and as the clock was winding down, Japan showed impressive stick-play to keep the ball for long periods.

In the last five minutes, India barely managed to string 2-3 passes together even as Japanese gave a masterclass in running down the time.

But with around 15 seconds left in the game, Vandana and Rani had another opportunity but were unable to capitalise on it.

In many ways, India despite being the higher-ranked team were outplayed by a disciplined Japanese team that executed its gameplan to perfection.

For India, the opportunity to qualify directly for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics is now gone. They will have go through the qualification cycle and that is never easy.