India beat Japan 4-3 to keep Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final hopes alive

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Mandeep Singh scored a hattrick against Japan. (Source: File)

In a contest that saw just one penalty corner conversion, by Rupinder Pal Singh in the 6th minute, the other goals were all field goals. However, this should not go to suggest that the contest saw poor defending. On the contrary, both teams produced solid defensive work to contain the opposition in the middle of the pitch.

On just the first PC for India and of the game, Rupinder sent the ball booming into the top corner to beat the keeper to his left. But only four minutes later, Japan levelled matters after a square ball from the right found Kazuma Murarta at the near post who squeeze the ball past Akash Chikte in goal – in the absence of the injured PR Sreejesh.

The next part of the game was largely uneventful with few chances coming either team’s way. However, just before the end of the third quarter, a lovely low cross at the far post from Heita Yoshihara didn’t need any striker intervention and the ball beat Chikte squarely.

But only two minutes later, Mandeep scored his first of the day to smartly deflect a low shot by Rupinder past Japan goalkeeper Suguru Shimmoto. The TV umpire needed to have a look to ensure that there was contact on the ball.

However, seconds later, India conceded once again and let go of the lead again. Genki Mitani’s strong shot from centre of the D was too much for Chikte to stop and push away with his left arm.

In the final ten minutes, Talwinder Singh ran down the baseline and pushed the ball into Mandeep’s path who had the easiest task of tapping the ball in and levelling the score to 3-3.

Japan’s hearts were broken just two minutes before the hooter after Mandeep trapped a Harmanpreet Singh shot in the centre of the D and turned to shoot past the keeper to lift India’s hopes ahead of the final game against Malaysia.

The win kept India in third place with 7 points after registering two wins in four matches besides a draw and a loss. The top two teams – Australia and Great Britain – also have 7 points but a superior goal difference (Australia with +7, Great Britain with +3 and India with +2). Only the top two teams play the final.

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