Ipoh: India were saved the blushes against a confident Japan outfit as Mandeep Singh's hat-trick powered Roelant Oltmans' boys to a nail-biting 4-3 win over their Asian opponents in their fourth round-robin match of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.
India needed to win the match after their loss against Australia to keep their hopes of entering the final alive and they made a good start, taking the lead in the first quarter itself.
[blurb]India's drag-flick specialist Rupinder Pal Singh converted the first penalty corner that came India's way to give the four-time champions an early lead.[/blurb]
But the Japanese hit back in the first qurater itself, Tanaka equalising in the 13th minute with a field goal after some scrappy defending by India.
INDIA VS JAPAN - As It Happened
After a fiercely fought second quarter, which saw both teams fight tooth and nail to take the lead, Japan finally went ahead in the 43rd minute as Heita Yoshihara hit a fierce shot from the edge of the box which had Indian goalkeeper Akash Chikte on the ropes as he was out of his position.
The Indians hit back immediately to restore parity, Mandeep Singh with an out an out poacher's goal, hanging his stick loose, close to a Japanese defender toget the all important flick to a shot drilled into the penalty circle by Chinglansana Singh.
[blurb]But India's defence was in sixes and sevens again as they failed to clear a ball inside their circle, which fell to Genki Mitani, who hit a fierce shot straight at Chikte from close range. The Indian keeper reacted but the ball entered the net after hitting his gloves as Japan went ahead 3-2 in the third quarter.[/blurb]
India needed a strong response in the final quarter and it came from their star of the day, Mandeep Singh. The young striker first equalised in the 51st minute. Talwinder Singh did all the hard work by getting the ball into the final third and Mandeep did the rest by bundling the ball over the goal line.
The striker sealed the deal in the 58th minute, just two minutes before the final hooter with a fantastic reverse hit with his back towards the goal which left the Japanese goal keeper beaten completely.
Mandeep's fifth goal of the tournament turned out to be the winner as Oltmans' boys edged their rivals to keep their hopes of reaching the final alive.