Skipper Harmanpreet Singh led admirably as the Indian men’s hockey team mauled defending champions Japan 5-1 to reclaim the Asian Games gold, their fourth in the continental showpiece, after nine years and qualify for next year’s Paris Olympics on Friday. The Indians, who had to be content with a bronze medal in the last edition in Jakarta, thus won their fourth Asian Games gold and first since the 2014 Incheon edition. India’s other gold medals came in 1966 and 1998, both times in Bangkok. South Korea won the bronze medal after eking out a close 2-1 win over hosts China.
Harmanpreet (32nd, 59th minutes) scored a brace through penalty corners, Amit Rohidas (36th) also sounded the board from a set-piece, while Manpreet Singh (25th) and Abhishek (48th) found the net from field efforts to register the famous victory for India.
Seren Tanaka converted a penalty corner for Japan in the 51st minutes.
Harmanpreet, thus, finished the tournament as India’s top scorer with 13 goals, one ahead of striker Mandeep Singh.
The Indians, who ended the tournament unbeaten, were by far the better side against Japan, whom they had defeated 4-2 in the pool stages.
The Indians mostly used the flanks to great effect to build their attacks and also used down-the-line long balls to perfection.
The Tokyo Olympics bronze medallists were quick to get off the blocks and made quite a few circle penetrations but failed to convert them into goals in the first quarter.
India played high-press hockey and constantly put the Japanese defence under pressure.
They got their first chance in the fifth minute but Lalit Upadhyay’s deflection from a pass from the left flank was saved by Japanese goalkeeper Takumi Kitagawa.
The Indians kept on pressing hard and, in the process, secured their first penalty corner of the match but Harmanpreet’s flick was brilliantly saved by an agile Kitagawa.
Two minutes into the second quarter, India earned another penalty corner but the variation didn’t work as Rohidas’s flick went over the post.
India continued their attacking hockey and finally took the lead in the 25th minute when Manpreet scored from a rebound with a powerful reverse hit from top of the circle after Abhishek’s initial try, from close range, was saved by the Japanese goalkeeper.
Two minutes from half-time, India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh was alert in front of his goal and was perfectly placed to deny Japan’s try, blocking the ball with his legs.
Two minutes into the second half, India secured three consecutive penalty corners and this time Harmanpreet was bang on target with the final attempt, sounding the board with a powerful drag-flick to the left of Kitagawa’s extend left leg.
Minutes later, Rohidas tripled India’s lead, finding the net with a powerful high flick that beat Japan goalkeeper Kitagawa all ends up.
Shamsher Singh then came close to registering his name in the score sheet only to be denied by Kitagawa.
It was complete domination by the Indians as three minutes into the fourth and final quarter Abhishek made the scoreline 4-0 from a tight angle after receiving a pass from vice-captain Hardik Singh.
With nothing to lose, Japan woke up in the last 10 minutes and secured two back-to-back penalty corners and Tanaka pulled one back.
Harmanpreet added salt to Japan’s wounds when he converted his second penalty corner just a minute from the final hooter.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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