Bhubaneswar: India booked their place in the 2020 Olympic Qualifiers in style as the Men in Blue hammered Japan 7-2 in the semifinals of the FIH Men’s Series Finals here Friday at Kalinga Stadium.
The Manpreet Singh-led boys will play South Africa in the final Saturday. The Proteas scraped past USA 2-1 in the other last-four encounter.
The win ensured India’s continued dominance over 2018 Asian Games gold medallist Japan since 2013. Only one match had ended in a draw. Out of the 15 games played between the two sides, India have won 14.
The match also proved to be a special one for Harmanpreet Singh as the defender enjoyed his 100th cap in national colours.
Harmanpreet (seventh minute), Varun Kumar (14th), Ramandeep Singh (23rd, 37th), Hardik Singh (25th), Gursahibjit Singh (43rd) and Vivek Sagar Prasad (47th) scored for India while for Japan Kenzi Kitazato (second) and Kota Watanbe (20th) found the net.
However, it was Japan who took a shock lead early on. Latching onto a pass from the centre, Kenta Tanaka ran down the right to feed an onrushing Kiotazato who slotted home past Krishan Bahadur Pathak under the Indian bar.
However, Japan’s joy was shortlived as India equalised five minutes later through a penalty corner converted by milestone man Harmanpreet. The hosts thereafter got two more penalty corners but Varun missed both occasions.
The Indians however, didn’t have to wait long as the 23-year-old made up for his wasted opportunities by converting another PC to give Indians the lead in the 14th minute.
Known for their fighting capabilities, the Japanese came back strongly and equalised through Watanbe who scored off a pass from Kazuma Murata down the left.
The Indians regained the lead three minutes later, this time through comeback man Ramandeep. The 26-year-old scored with a deft touch off Mandeep Singh’s fierce shot. Japanese custodian Yusuke Takano had no chance to stop the ball.
Young Hardik made the scoreline 4-2 on 25 minutes through a brilliant field goal. Hardik, the cousin of former Indian star Jugraj Singh, picked up a long ball and beat Takano much to delight of the half-filled stands.
The Japanese could have reduced the margin two minutes from the half time, but veteran PR Sreejesh came to the rescue saving a powerful strike from Shota Yamada.
The Indians maintained their dominance in the third quarter too and the pressure worked for them. They got three back-to-back penalty corners. Harmanpreet failed to utilise the first two, but off the third there was a rebound and Ramandeep cashed in and it was 5-2.
India sixth goal came when young Gursahibjit picked up Nilakanta Sharma’s pin-point pass and drove the ball past a hapless Takano. Vivek’s wristy reverse-flick completed the rout in the 47th minute.