Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: India down Japan to start tournament with a win

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Image Courtesy: © Twitter - Sardar Singh

Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: India down Japan to start tournament with a win

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Arun S Kaimal


India men’s hockey team started the 2016 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on a positive note defeating Japan 2-1 at Ipoh, Malaysia on Wednesday. After going 0-1 down, India bounced back with Harmanpreet Singh and Sardar Singh scoring goals in the second and third quarter to guide the team to a win.

After a gap of four months, the Indian men’s hockey team took the field in the silver jubilee edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in the first of event in the run-up to the all-important Rio Olympics. With star players P R Sreejesh and V R Raghunath rested, coach Roelant Oltmans took a young-looking squad to Malaysia in search of winning their sixth title of the tournament.

Junior Asia Cup winner Harmanpreet Singh, who has fond memories of Malaysia after scoring nine and fifteen goals in his last two tournaments – Sultan of Johor Cup and Junior Asia Cup, started at the back against Japan in a bid to put pressure on first team regulars VR Raghunath and Rupinderpal Singh for a place in the Rio Olympics-bound squad.

With a lot of newcomers among the ranks, India started the match slowly by moving the ball at a slow pace rather than using the pace of SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh. Japan, who are ranked nine spots below India in the FIH World rankings, also opted to wait for a lapse in the Indian defence rather than invoking one. Ramandeep Singh had the best chance for India in the first quarter after he dispossessed a Japanese defender outside the shooting circle to mount an attack, but a block near the goal line thwarted the forward’s hopes of an opening goal.

Within two minutes into the second quarter, Japan scored their first goal after earning a penalty corner. Koji Yamasaki pushed the ball, and Kenji Kitazato produced a powerful flick to beat Harjot Singh in the Indian goal near his left-hand corner in the 17th minute. Japan received another penalty corner in the 20th minute, but this time, Kitazato’s flick went a bit high to give the Indian camp some relief.

The goal woke India up from their slumber, and they earned a penalty corner of their own, six minutes from the half-time break after Chinglensana Singh expertly allowed the ball to hit the opposing defender. Rupinder Pal Singh pushed the ball into the shooting circle in search of the midfielder’s stick, but seeing the Japanese defender close to him, Chinglensana jumped up to allow the ball hit the defender’s legs.

Harmanpreet Singh continued his golden run in Malaysia and injected a powerful flick to beat Takashi Yoshikawa near his right-hand post. With the scores now levelled at 1-1, India ended the half on the ascendancy pushing the Japanese defence back into their own half in the last five minutes.

India started from where they finished the second quarter and went ahead in the 32nd minute through skipper Sardar Singh. The dynamic midfielder picked up the ball outside the shooting circle and weaved his way through the Japan defence before producing a reverse flick from an acute angle to find the goal. After going 2-1, India enjoyed the majority of the possession in the third quarter as Japan opted to play a defensive game bringing all their eleven players behind the ball. Even though India had all their ten outfield players in the opposition half a few times in the third quarter, the scoreline remained the same as players switched sides for the last quarter.

India continued their dominance in the last quarter and came close to increasing the lead, only to see Takashi Yoshikawa and the post standing in their way. Although, Japan shelved their defensive tactic in the final few minutes and pushed ahead for a win, India held on to win 2-1 to start the tournament with a win.  

(Read how the 1976 Olympics changed Hockey and how HIL's new rule could take India back to its glory)

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