Rusty India beats Japan in Azlan Shah opener

Despite starting the game strongly and India holding almost 84 per cent of the possession in the first five minutes, the first quarter ended goalless as Japan defended strongly to deny it any openings.

After brushing off Japan 2-1 in the opener, India next plays Australia on Thursday.

Five-time champion India defeated Japan 2-1 in its opening match of the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia on Wednesday.

Despite starting the game strongly and India holding almost 84 per cent of the possession in the first five minutes, the first quarter ended goalless as Japan defended strongly to deny it any openings.

In the second minute of the second quarter, Japan added to the surprise, by winning the first penalty corner of the match and duly converted it to break the deadlock.

Soon after India got its act together and started stringing together the sort of game the crowd had come in expecting, with the equaliser coming through the stick of Harmanpreet Singh in the 25th minute via its first penalty corner.

The second half saw India come out with a changed game plan, and a complete shift in body language. Captain Sardar Singh took the reins of the midfield and started bossing the Japanese and was, unsurprisingly, the scorer of the second goal in the 32nd minute. In a move that started at the edge of the circle, with India passing the ball around, Sardar Singh darted forward to receive Jasjit’s pass and the subsequent finish from a tight angle ensured that India took the lead.

From then on it was a one-sided display, albeit with no more goals, as India held the majority of the possession, and kept control of the game for large periods of time. Ramandeep once again went close, with a great bit of individual play as he burst past four Japanese defenders and Sardar Singh was denied by the goalkeeper in the fourth quarter. India closed out the match to win 2-1.

Speaking after the match Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans said: “When players haven’t played competitive matches for a while, they lack a certain amount of match sharpness and that was evident in our play in the first half. But, we changed that, and came out with the victory, which is the important thing. A huge amount of credit must also go to Japan, for having given us a tough outing. They are a young team and must be applauded.”

India next plays Australia on Thursday at 13:35 IST.