There were no big celebrations from skipper Harmanpreet Singh after he scored from a penalty corner. It was the fifth goal of an 8-0 rout over Japan in the qualification playoff game and his first penalty corner conversion of the World Cup with a goalkeeper manning the posts. He could only shake his head in relief. But Harmanpreet and his men were able to give an expectant 20,000 crowd at the Birsa Munda International Stadium a celebratory night.
After the painful exit last weekend, head coach Graham Reid wanted to rectify a few errors going forward. While the first half may not have lived up to his expectations, he would have been satisfied after the third-quarter blitz of Japan. The quickfire goals from Mandeep Singh and Abhishek eased the nerves, while Vivek Sagar Prasad, who had a good game defensively, got on the scoresheet and assisted twice to take a 4-0 lead.
In the opening 30 minutes, a sprightly Japanese side caused India problems with their counter-attacks and needed PR Sreejesh to bail them out on multiple occasions. Sreejesh was tested within seconds of coming on in the second quarter with a double save against Ryosei Kato followed by another foot to deny Koji Yamasaki from the rebound. At the other end, India created chances with their quick interchanges and pace on the transition but was thwarted by keeper Takashi Yoshikawa.
India’s penalty corner conversion rate has been a concern and finally, a variation early in the second half helped break the deadlock. From the second battery, Amit Rohidas drag-flicked the ball into the path of Mandeep Singh, who made the run from the wide circle to deflect it into the roof of the net.
With Japan pressing for the equaliser, Vivek Sagar Prasad dispossessed the ball inside the opposition’s half to find Abhishek in space inside the circle. The forward composed himself by shifting the ball to the left before reverse-flicking into the net.
Vivek Sagar was once again alert when he picked up a loose ball outside the circle and fed Abhishek, whose lofted tomahawk finish gave Yoshikawa no chance.
Even Harmanpreet, whose drag-flicks kept finding the defenders, managed to sound the board twice in the fourth quarter. Manpreet Singh’s tireless running and efforts were rewarded with a goal before Sukhjeet Singh scored from a rebound in the final seconds.
India will take on South Africa on Saturday in the 9-12 classification places match.
Earlier in the day, South Africa and Wales, which lost all its pool matches, stunned Malaysia and France. Goalkeeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill starred in the shootout win over France with four saves after the match ended 2-2 in regulation time. With the thrashing of Chile, Argentina will join South Africa, Wales and India in the 9-12 th place classification battle.
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