It was essentially a game of two halves – Takashi Yoshikawa was the cynosure of all attention in the first half foiling Indian offensive efforts one after another – the 30-year-old Japan goalkeeper, playing in 129th international appearance single-handedly ensured Japan was on even terms with the all-attacking Indians – the manner in which he thwarted full-blooded top-of-the-D attempts from Raj Kumar Pal, Abhishek, and Akashdeep Singh in the opening half was of the top draw.
One would not be surprised if coach Graham Reid must be jittery with the Indian profligacy that unfolded at the Birsa Munda International Hockey Stadium in Rourkela. The Blueshirts were doing everything but for the ‘clinical final-finish’. The Indian dugut breathed a sigh of relief when Mandeep Singh got his stick on time to an indirectly taken Amit Rohidas penalty corner drag-flickto ease the nerves early in the second half. The indirect route was just what the doctor ordered as skipper Harmanpreet Singh messed up several direct drag-flick opportunities from shorties. Mandeep Singh became the top goal-scorer for India against Japan with 13 goals.
India changed the complexion of the game with 3 goals in 7 minutes in the second half – Abhishek, who was outstanding upfront without scoring, came up with a stinging shot soon after and Vivek Sagar Prasad made it 3-0 off a Harmanpreet Singh PC rebound. The hosts pressed home the advantage when Abhishek capped off a double off a Vivek Sagar Prasad layout as Japan had their backs to the walls.
It was a kind of redemption for Harmanpreet Singh late in the game – he converted two shorties while former skipper Manpreet Singh sneaked in one in between before Sukhjeet added one more as India closed out a facile 8-0 win after being made to fight tooth and nail in the first 30 minutes of play. This was India’s 82nd win over Japan in 92 meetings.
India would now face up South Africa in the 9-12th placing classification tie on Saturday. The Blueshirts won 3-2 when both teams last met in the semifinal of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.