Starting their campaign in the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup five time champions India routed Japan 2-1 in their opening match at Ipoh, on Wednesday. Captain Sardar Singh struck the winning goal in the 32nd minute to extend India’s lead over Japanese.
Despite starting the game strongly and India holding almost 84 per cent of the possession in the first five minutes, the first quarter ended goal less as Japan defended strongly to deny them any openings.
In the second minute of the second quarter, Japan added to the surprise, by winning the first PC of the match and duly converted it to score the opener.
Soon after, India got their act together and started stringing together the sort of game the crowd had come in expecting, with an equaliser by Harmanpreet Singh in the 25th minute. The 22-year-old defender scored in the first penalty corner for India. The teams went into the break locked at 1-1.
The second half saw India come out with a changed game plan, and a complete shift in body language. Skipper Sardar Singh, took the reins of the midfield and started bullying the Japanese, as he struck their second goal in the 32nd minute. In a move that started at the edge of the circle, with India passing the ball around, Singh’s dart forward to receive Jasjit’s pass and the subsequent finish from a tight angle, ensured India a lead.
The fans at Malaysia witnessed no goals in the final quarter. India held the possession, and kept control of the game for large periods of time. Ramandeep once again went close, with a great bit of individual play as he burst past four Japanese defenders and Singh was denied by the goalkeeper in the fourth quarter. India won the opening game as scoreline read 2-1, in the end.
Expressing his contentment with the victory, India’s coach Roelant Oltmans said “When players haven’t played competitive matches for a while, they lack a certain amount of match sharpness and that was evident in our play in the first half. But, we changed that, and came out with the victory, which is the important thing.”
Praising the opponents for a close match, Oltmans added, “A huge amount of credit must also go to Japan, for having given us a tough outing. They are a young team and must be applauded.”
In their next match of the tournament, India are scheduled to face Australia, on Thursday.