Hockey World Cup: India put 8 past Japan with field goals, PCs and a bit of luck


It was a packed stadium in Rourkela. The Indian team was up against Japan. They didn't get off to the best of starts but India got the goals in the second half. In fact, eight of them. And kept a clean sheet.

India's captain and prolific goal-scorer Harmanpreet Singh scored twice from penalty corners. Mandeep Singh and Abhishek also got on the scoresheet. It was a good victory. The only issue: it did not matter in the grand scheme of things. India were already out of the World Cup.

The home side sealed an emphatic win, but got off to a shaky start.

In the first half, India played the same way they've played throughout this World Cup. There were moments when they struggled and if not for a string of saves from PR Sreejesh in the second quarter, India would have been trailing. They created chances but rushed things in the circle, something they were guilty of doing in their earlier matches.

Hockey World Cup: What went wrong for India?

There was an instance in the first half when Lalit Upadhyay had the ball and the space to take the hit. Instead of going for a reverse hit, he took the ball into the crowded area and missed the chance. And Harmanpreet was still unable to connect his shots from penalty corners. He was late with his hits twice in the first quarter, which helped the Japanese first rusher block his efforts.

How did things change in the second half?

India came out a much-improved team in the second half with the comfort of not having conceded yet. They scored their first goal thanks to Mandeep Singh's superb variation from a penalty corner: finally, a proper variation that worked for India this World Cup.

Post that opening goal, the gates were open. Abhishek, Vivek Sagar Prasad, Manpreet Singh, Sukhjeet Singh and Harmanpreet all netted to ensure India closed the match.

In the previous games, especially against New Zealand, India allowed their opponents to come back into the game twice. Once from a 2-0 lead and then from a 3-1 lead. Japan could've punished them if given a chance, but India did well to outscore them and neutralize their attacks.

Abhishek, who failed to get going until today, struck two wonderful goals. His first goal was a lovely bit of skill - a nicely taken reverse hit that beat the onrushing goalkeeper. His second goal, another reverse hit, was all about power. The quality of those goals showed why he's India's most complete forward.

Later, Harmanpreet also converted his chance from a penalty corner - his first of this World Cup with a 'keeper manning his post [he scored off a penalty corner against Wales but there was no 'keeper in goal then]. He added another goal in the final quarter, another well-taken penalty corner.

Vivek Sagar Prasad also had a good game - he grabbed a goal and an assist while dominating the midfield.

Talking post the game, Mandeep said, "Luck played a part too, our dragflickers scored today. We created so many penalty corner chances, we also scored field goals today. We saw the mistakes we made in the New Zealand match. All of us took turns to speak in the meeting, which worked in the end."

Mandeep's simplicity the example for misfiring India

Reflecting on the win, Reid said, "It's almost disappointing when you get a result like that because where was that three nights ago? We will all go to our graves with that you know... those regrets. But look, tonight was about getting some pride back. [To] show that we haven't lost a game, we only drew."

He added, "That's hockey. You have to score goals. That's why I talk a lot about creating opportunities. Sometimes, it just clicks and it works. That's what we needed. We needed a bit of luck as we got it tonight. If we had it two or three nights ago then things could be different."

It all worked in the end for India and they will now look to end the tournament on a high against South Africa. Here, the meaning of high means a ninth-place finish.