Title favourites India produced an impressive performance to outclass Japan 5-1 in their opening campaign at the 10th edition of the men’ Asia Cup hockey tournament, here on Wednesday. In their first tournament under a new coach, India meant business and found the net in each quarter, twice in the third, to streamroll their less-fancied but tricky opponents. SV Sunil (3rd minute), Lalit Upadhyay (22nd), Ramandeep Singh (33rd) and Harmanpreet Singh (35th and 48th) were on target.
Japan’s lone goal came through Kenji Kitazato’s stick in the 4th minute. World No 6 India did not look rusty under their new coach, Marijne Sjoerd, who took charge of the team just last month following the sudden sacking of Roelant Oltmans.
India were quick to get off the blocks when Sunil, after a fine one-two with Akashdeep Singh, pushed the ball in an open net.
But India’s joy was shortlived as Japan struck in the next minute through Kitazato’s field strike.
The Indians completely dominated the proceedings and exploited every single bit of space given by the Japanese. They utilised both the wings to perfection to set up their attacks.
India got their first of their four penalty corners in the 21st minute but Harmanpreet’s flick didn’t have enough power to trouble the Japanese citadel.
An inch perfect scoop from Harmanpreet from the halfway mark found Lalit inside the D and the striker slotted home with a reverse shot after brilliantly controlling the ball.
Two minutes into the second half India extended their lead through Ramandeep, who scored a gem with a thundering shot from a tight angle after being set up by Sunil.
Next it was Harmanpreet’s turn to register his name in the scoresheet and the drag-flicker did so by converting India’s second penalty corner in the 40th minute.
Minutes later, Akashdeep missed a sitter. Sunil found an unmarked Akashdeep inside the circle but he hit the ball straight to the pads of the Japanese goalie despite having all the time to find his spot.
But soon Harmanpreet made the score line 5-1 in favour of India, scoring with a fine variation from their third penalty corner.
The Indians couldn’t have asked for a better start to the tournament as they showcased near perfect hockey, which was full of short one-two passes, quick turnovers and variations.
India earned two more penalty corners in the final minutes of the game but wasted both.
Japan too secured two scoring chances in the dying minutes in the form of penalty corners but the Indian defence held fort.
The Indians will next play hosts Bangladesh in their next Pool A match on Friday.