Sultan Azlan Shah Cup: Mandeep shines as India edge past Japan

India’s Affan Yousuf battles for the ball with Australia’s Trent Mitton during their match at the Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh. AP

Striker Mandeep Singh scored a brilliant hat-trick to hand India a fighting 4-3 victory over lower-ranked Japan in a round robin match of the 26th Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, here on Wednesday.

After four matches, Australia are firmly at the top of the table with 10 points from three wins, and a draw, while Great Britain are in the second place after collecting seven points.

Expectations were of a combative, rough-and-tumble encounter, but India would be sorely disappointed that despite taking the lead, rhythm, a critical aspect of their play was missing.

It needed two goals from Mandeep in the last 10 minutes to help India avoid a stunning loss. "There is only one other striker who has scored for us so far, which is Akashdeep (Singh)".

"We have guaranteed ourselves a chance for a bronze medal but will be putting everything on the line in our next game against Great Britain to give a good run at making the final", he said.

At the end of the first quarter, both India and Australia were locked at 0-0. It was defender Rupinder Pal Singh who showed innovative dribbling skills to penetrate the circle and take a shot on goal in the initial minutes of the first quarter but he was slightly off the target with the shot going wide. All eight goals have been through open play, suggesting that India's defensive organisation has been well below par.

Although Japan went ahead through a Shota Yamada goal in the ninth minute, the Kiwis ended the first half with a 3-1 lead courtesy of goals by Kane Russel (18th and 32nd) and Sam Lane (35th).

"India's Harmanpreet and Rupinder Pal are brilliant players.it was hard to read their game". India had 32 circle penetrations to Japan's 14 and their total shots were 14 to Japan's seven.

India dominated ball possession to keep the pressure on Japan in the second quarter.

Japan fought back through Kuzama Murata (13th minute), Heita Yoshihara (42nd minute) and Genki Mitani (44th minute).

India have lost the services of their first-choice goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, whose right knee injury sustained in yesterday's game against Australia has ruled him out for the remainder of the tournament.

India will have their eyes on the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup final, when they face hosts Malaysia on Friday.

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