Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: India Beats Japan, Courtesy Mandeep Singh

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Kuala Lumpur: India’s chances of reaching the final of the 2017 Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey tournament remain intact following their narrow 4-3 victory over Japan in Ipoh, Malaysia on Wednesday, but the team will know of their fate only after the conclusion of the Great Britain v Australia match later on Wednesday.

Japan, ranked 16th in the men’s game, pushed World No 6 India shot for shot while running them nearly ragged, but in the end were left stunned by a hat-trick of goals from Mandeep Singh. In a stirring display of excellence, Mandeep scored goals in the 45th, 51st and 58th minutes to pull a flagging India away from their opponents, for whom Heita Yoshihara and Genki Mitani had scored inside five minutes as the third quarter ended with Japan ahead 3-2.

As in the match against Australia on Tuesday, India were put into the advantage first only to end the first half with the scores level, but what really threatened to end their campaign was allowing Japan goals in the 43rd and 45th minutes. Somehow, India kept their heads to rebound in the final quarter through Mandeep’s outstanding stick work which was, ultimately, the difference between victory and an upset loss.

This was not a match lacking in intensity or drama. In the eighth minute, seconds after Akash Chikte stuck out a leg to stop an attempt at goal, experienced drag flick expert Rupinder Pal Sigh converted India’s first PC into a 1-0 advantage. Japan failed to use their first PC a short while later, but Kazuma Marata scored the equalizer in the 13th minute. The first quarter came to a tense close with a flick from Harmanpreet Singh saved by Shimoto, only for Affan Yousuf to miss the deflection by the thinnest of margins.

India’s forwards applied pressure in hopes of forcing the Japanese defenders into lapses of concentration as the second quarter progressed, and again came close to scoring through Harmanpreet but Shimoto was too swift.

From 1-1 at half-time, Japan kept matching India shot for shot. In the 43rd minute, No 12 Yoshihara’s splendid field goal put Japan ahead, only for Mandeep to draw level with 36 seconds on the clock. But then, stunningly, Mitani slotted one past a sluggish Chikte to put Japan back in the lead with just seven seconds to go in quarter three.

Consecutive PCs missed, including one by drag-flick expert Rupinder, ratcheted up the tension as the clock wound down. India got a lifeline thanks to Mandeep’s second goal in the 51st minute, and when the striker netted this third with just less than three minutes left in the match, India had somehow managed to break free from Japan’s spirited effort.

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