Asian Champions Trophy: Japan's resilience holds India at bay

Harmanpreet Singh in action against Japan. Hockey India

A day after India's penalty corner prowess had put China to the sword, Japan's defence showed how the double battery of Harmanpreet Singh and Varun Kumar could be held at bay (for the most part) in an entertaining 1-1 draw at the Mayor Radhakrishnan stadium in Chennai. The goals were scored by Ken Nagayoshi in the 28th minute and Harmanpreet Singh in the 43rd.

The result sees India slip to second on the table after Malaysia continued their good start with a dominant 5-1 win against China earlier in the day. They now have six points in two games. Meanwhile, defending champions South Korea were held to a 1-1 draw by Pakistan in the first match of the day. The table now reads Malaysia, then India, South Korea, Japan and Pakistan.

In the headline match, Japan's defence were the stars of the show. The sheer numbers show how much work they had to go through -- India had 14 penalty corners to Japan's two, 21 shots to their three, 27 circle penetrations to their 11, and 61% of the possession.

The first hint of how difficult a night this would be came within the first minutes. India won four penalty corners in quick succession and none of them cleared the first rushers. Japan had countered India's double battery with a double rushing system that saw any two of Nagoyoshi, Raiki Fujishima and Shota Yamada attack the ball at a furious pace after the PC was set. It was a display of astonishing bravery and India appeared to get increasingly flustered as the match wore on.

Another set of four PCs came in the last minute of the first quarter but once again the rushers did their job brilliantly. After the match, Harmanpreet would admit that India's finishing had not been up to scratch but also that Japan's defence had been incredible. Having lost their first match late on to South Korea, Japan had come into their second with the clear intention of putting their first points on the board, and their defence was the bedrock of that strategy.

The second quarter passed with relatively little incident - apart from repeated attempts to penetrate the circle or smash in tomahawks by Sukhjeet Singh and Karthi Selvam -- till the very end of the period. In the 28th minute Japan won their second (and last) PC of the game and Nagayoshi, who had been on the receiving end of a fair few thunderbolts, delivered one of his one to nutmeg the defender on the post. It was a sensational strike and the applause of the partisan crowd indicated that it'd been just rewards for their courage in defense.

The third quarter saw an early PC thwarted once again by the brilliant rushing of Japan, but there was to be no denying Harmanpreet in the 43rd minute. He lined up his PC, and was just that little too quick for the rushers as he powered one straight and hard -- it went through the goalkeeper's legs and smashed into the goal.

The fourth quarter started much the same way - India winning three PCs in quick succession in the opening couple of minutes - but none went past the rushers. The risk element in doing this was highlighted when after one of the flicks, Yamada had to be carried off the pitch. He'd been struck flush on the kneecap by a Harmanpreet rocket. Japan refused to buckle, though, and even though India won another series of two PCs late in the match, they weren't able to make any further dents in the defence.

After a day's break, India will next play the impressive Malaysia on August 6 at 8.30 PM.