Three-goal hero Mandeep saves India!
Mandeep Singh saved India the blushes with a hat-trick as the World No 6 came back twice to beat a disciplined Japan 4-3 in a nail-biting 26th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup match today.
India now moved third in the table standings with seven points – behind Australia and Great Britain and plays their last group match against host Malaysia on Friday.
The last time India defeated Japan was at the Asian Champions Trophy in Kuantan in September 2016. India won 2-1.
India trooped onto the field Japan without the experienced goalkeeper P. Sreejesh who suffered a tear to the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the 3-1 defeat against Australia on Tuesday.
Sreejesh has been ruled out of the tournament and perhaps even the World League Semi-Finals in June. No 2 goalkeeper Akash Chikte is India’s only last man standing between the posts.
Six minutes into the game, it was India that made the first move against a disciplined Japan from a penalty corner and the towering Rupinder Pal Singh drove the ball to the top of net, beating goalkeeper SuguruShimmoto, who has been playing exceptionally well in the last three matches.
Japan, reeling second from bottom of the table standings with just one point, took control in the next moment keeping the Indian defenders busy and by the 10th minute was on level terms with a KazumaMurata field goal. Masaki Ohashi was uncheck by two defenders and relayed the ball to Kazuma who faced no trouble in packing the ball past the young Akash as both teams ended the first half with the score tied1-1.
But that was not the last from Japan as they surprised all by taking the lead for the first time against giants India in the 43rd minute from a Heita Yoshihara solo. Heita made a quick burst from the 25-yard line with India defenders hot on his heels and blasted the ball into goal to go 2-1 ahead for the first time.
The Indians were left in a state of shock and threw everything back. It took just two minutes after Heita’s goal for India to clock in the equaliser through Mandeep Singh from open play but the drama on the field exploded into another fire cracker with Japan pulling ahead 3-2 through Genki Mitaniin a counter attack seconds before end of first half.
The five-time champions were in deep trouble for the only the second time in the match and it took the genius of Mandeep to bail the Indians out of trouble water nine minutes to the end with a field goal.
And just when everything was moving well for the Japanese who gave their best performance today, it was Mandeep who rode India out of trouble with a 58th minute field goal that broke Japan down for their third defeat in the tournament.