BHUBANESWAR: Despite being a goal down, hosts India barged into the final of FIH Series Finals by demolishing Asian Games champions Japan 7-2 at Kalinga Stadium on Friday. India will face South Africa in the final on Saturday. Both teams have qualified for the Olympic Qualifiers, which will be held in November.
Fifth-ranked India had a strong record against Japan. A total of 84 matches have been played between the two teams, and Japan had won only four out of them. But in the semifinal, Japan were the ones to sound the board first. They opened their account in the second minute, with Tanaka Kenta’s cross being converted successfully by Kitazato Kenji.
Harmanpreet Singh, playing in his 100th international, came with his own share of experiences against Japan. In 2015, he had made his debut at the same ground against the same team during the Indo-Japan test series. And the defender went on to make his milestone match memorable. He scored the equaliser for India in the 7th minute. After the equaliser, the Men in Blue never looked back. They kept attacking the Japanese defence line from both wings. They were rewarded with five penalty corners in the first quarter. Dragflicker Varun Kumar doubled the lead in the 14th minute, as India closed the first quarter with the scoreboard reading 2-1. In the second quarter, Japan made a comeback, equalising in the 20th minute through Watanabe Kota.
But experienced campaigner Ramandeep Singh nullified the goal in no time. He received a pass from Gurinder Singh to give a 3-2 lead to India in the same minute, and he also scored another in the 37th minute to take away the match from Japan. Ramandeep adjudged as Man of the Match.Hardik Singh, Gursahibjit Singh and Vivek Prasad eventually joined the party, contributing a goal each in the 37th, 43rd and 47th minutes.
SA squeak past US
A last-minute strike by Nicholas Spooner helped South Africa beat US 2-1 to reach the final. From a goal down, South Africa bounced back to seal a spot in the final. US, who controlled the match till the last minute, missed out by a whisker.Dragflicker Aki Kaeppeler converted a penalty corner in the 15th minute to open the account for US.