India dominated the possession, controlled the game, earned a bagful of chances but wasted them to split points with Japan with a 1-1 draw on Friday in a game that raises more questions on its preparations ahead of the big-ticket Asian Games than ever.
It was a case of almost the entire team having an off day. The players kept entering the circle and kept hitting wide or over. They kept earning penalty corners — India had a total of 16 short corners through the match — but were reckless and wasted 15 of them.
The first four were earned back-to-back in the 5th minute itself as India, hoping to go up early, went on an all-out attack. They kept pushing hard, barely allowing Japan any space to counter or mount any offence.
But the lack of cohesion and most of the players being off-position let the team down. The seniors in the forward line – Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Gurjant Singh – repeatedly faltered. Vivek Sagar Prasad, Nilakanta Sharma and Sumit worked hard to keep the feeder lines open. Even Varun Kumar and Jugraj Singh played upfront, but to no avail.
To its credit, Japan did not lose its defensive structure. It stayed close, not allowing the forwards any space to take direct shots. The focus seemed to be solely on creating PCs, barring the one shot in the 17th minute when Akashdeep tried to shoot from the edge of circle but hit straight to the goalkeeper.
The Japanese runners denied India repeatedly and kept looking for chances to break through. They finally did with two penalty corners – and converted the 2nd to take the lead and stun the crowd and the Indian team.
Harmanpreet finally got one, in the 43rd minute, to save India the blushes.
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