Defending Champions the Indian Men’s Hockey Team secured their passage through to the Final of the 5th Men’s Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018 as they defeated Japan 3-2 in their Semi-Final match of the competition held here at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Saturday. The World No. 5 team faced tough competition from the Japanese team but held their nerve to score three goals via Gurjant Singh (19’), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (44’) and Dilpreet Singh (55’); while Hirotaka Wakuri (22’) and Hirotaka Zendana (56’) scored for Japan in a fierce encounter.
The defending Champions started the match on the front-foot, creating a few opportunities inside the first ten minutes, but failing to find an opening. In the 10th minute, Gurjant Singh found himself on the reverse inside the Japanese circle, but his shot was well saved by the Goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa. Another chance came in the 14th minute for the Indian team when Mandeep Singh made a great turn, and shot at goal, but saw his effort wide of the Japanese goal. The World No. 16 team played well to deny the Indians and ended the first quarter with the scores tied at 0-0.
The start of the second quarter saw India have another chance in the 18th minute as Nilakanta Sharma had the chance to put India ahead in the crucial tie, only for the Midfielder to fluff his shot. However, some clever play from striker Gurjant Singh saw him collect the ball on the left side of the circle and make a great turn to shoot, which saw his shot make its way past Yoshikawa and into the back of the net to give India the lead in the 19th minute. The Indian team kept threatening the Japanese as Dilpreet Singh forced Yoshikawa to dive to his left and make a fine save in the 22nd minute. A mistake from Surender Kumar saw Japan win their first Penalty Corner, which worked from them as Shota Yamada played in the ball into the second castle, where Hirotaka Wakuri was present to deflect the pass into the back of the net to make it 1-1 after 22 minutes. The Japanese played with patience and looked to attack the Indians on the counter, winning their second Penalty Corner in the 29th minute, but their variation was deflected away by the Indian defence to go in to the half-time break tied at 1-1.
Japan played the third quarter with a better approach as they absorbed all the pressure inflicted on them by the Indian team, who started the third quarter with more aggression but could not stretch the Japanese defence enough to create chances. After having tried for the majority of the quarter without success, it was only in the 44th minute that the World No. 5 team managed to get the lead again when Vice-Captain Chinglensana Singh Kangujam found the back of the net from inside the circle to make it 2-1.
The last quarter was about seeing the match through for the Indian team, but they tried to create chances to find the all-important third goal. Lalit Upadhyay tried to find Hardik Singh on the right flank, but his effort was intercepted by the Japanese defence. It was only in the 55th minute that Dilpreet Singh produced a moment of magic to give India their third goal as he collected the ball inside the circle, and shot into the far corner after wriggling away from two Japanese defenders. However, a great team move from the World No. 16 team saw Japan win a Penalty Corner in the next minute, which was well converted by Hirotaka Zendana as he smashed the ball into the top right corner to make it a nervy finish for the Indian team. But the efforts of the Indian defence to see out the match were enough for the World No. 5 to register their place in the Final of the competition.
The Indian Men’s Hockey Team will play the Final of the 5th Men’s Hero Asian Champions Trophy 2018 against Pakistan on 28th October 2018 at 22.40hrs IST.