Chief coach Graham Reid's worst nightmare came true as Olympic bronze medallists India put up a pathetic display to go down 3-5 in the semi-final of the Asian Champions Trophy, here on Tuesday. This was Japan's first win against India in a major tournament in the regular time.
In the pre-match virtual interaction with the media, Ried had talked about a situation a few years back when his team Australia had beaten their opponents with a huge margin in the preliminary stage but went on to lose the final to the same opponent in a tie-breaker.
Similarly, India had defeated Japan 6-0 in their last preliminary league match in the Asian Champions Trophy and were to take on the same opponents in the last-four stage clash. Reid had impressed on his players to be on their best in the semi-final clash lest they face the fate that befell Australia in the instance cited by their coach.
Reid had pointed out that the 6-0 result in the preliminary round did not present a true picture of the match as India had allowed Japan, the 2018 Asian Games gold medallist, too many chances and were lucky to not concede 2-3 goals. But the Indians did not learn any lessons from the example cited by their coach and played very poorly against an opponent that was quite determined to win the match and avenge their humiliating defeat in the preliminary round.
Shota Yamada (1st min), Raiki Fujishima (2nd min), Yoshiki Kirishita (29th min), Kosei Kawabe (35th min), and Ryoma Ooka (41st min) scored as Japan registered their first victory against India in regulation time.
Dilpreet Singh (17th min), Harmanpreet Singh (53rd min), and Hardik Singh (59th min) scored for India -- the last two goals coming in the fourth and final quarter giving the score a semblance of respectability. Otherwise, it was a poor performance by the Indians as they showed a lack of coordination, lost balls easily all over the turf to allow Japan to launch easy counter-attacks. The easy turn-overs allowed by the Indians cost them three of the five goals Japan scored in this match. The scoreline could have looked more lopsided for India if goalkeepers Suraj Karkera and Krishan Pathak had not brought out a couple of good saves each.
"We were very lazy in the first half and allowed them a lot of chances. it was a very bad performance, what else can I say." said skipper Manpreet Singh in the post-most ceremony.
Japan thus set up a summit clash with South Korea, who prevailed over Pakistan, another three-time champion in Asian Champions Trophy, 6-5 in a high-scoring thriller. Pakistan had fought back from a two-goal deficit to level scores at 5-5 but the Koreans scored a late goal to seal the victory.
The second semi-final turned out to be a total anti-climax and the Indians had themselves to blame as they allowed Japan a free run in the first half. Japan came out firing on all cylinders and caught the Indians napping as they scored two goals in the first two minutes to put pressure on India, the three-time champions in the Asian Champions Trophy. They earned half-a-dozen penalty corners in the first quarter itself but could convert only one.
The shell-shocked Indians reduced the margin when Dilpreet Singh scored in the second quarter but Japan returned the favour a minute before the half-time, capitalising on another easy turn-over allowed by the Indian defenders in the rival half. Dipsan Tirkey lost the ball to Kawada near the Japanese 23-yard line, the forward, who looked a threat every time he ventured into the Indian half, made a superb run into the Indian circle and was brought down by goalkeeper Pathak in a desperate attempt. Kirishita scored the resultant penalty stroke to make it 3-1.
Whatever coach Reid said in the lemon break did not have much effect as the Indians, despite dominating possession, failed to score in the third quarter while Japan scored two more goals to virtually put the match beyond the Indian grasp. Kawade scored the fourth goal as Japan capitalising on another error by the Indians to launch a swift counter-attack and scored another goal.
The Indians had left themselves a mountain to climb in the final quarter and launched some desperate attacks but could manage to score only two goals, which proved too little and too late. India dominated possession (54% to 46%), had more circle penetrations (23-10), and scored more goals off penalty corners (2 off 5 as against 1 off 6 by Japan) but in the end, it all went in vain as their listless performance in the first half ended their hopes.
Japan 5 (Shota Yamada 1st min, Raiki Fujishima 2nd min, Yoshiki Kirishita 29th min, Kosei Kawabe 35th min, Ryoma Ooka 41st min) beat India 3 (Dilpreet Singh 17th min, Harmanpreet Singh 53rd min, Hardik Singh 59th min).
Korea 6 (Jang Jong-hyun 11th, 12th, 29th, 58th min; Yang Ji-hun 30+ min, Jeong Jun-woo 44th min) beat Pakistan 5 (Mubashar Ali 47th, 51st, Umar Bhutta 3rd min, Manzoor Junaid 22nd min, Afraz 30th min).