As It Happened
It was one-way traffic once Akashdeep Singh broke the deadlock in the 19th minute, after a goal-less first quarter that saw the teams more focused on defence and not give away an early lead.
But veteran striker Akashdeep’s goal opened the floodgates and India scored twice more before half-time, courtesy tournament’s top-score and India captain Harmanpreet Singh (23rd minute) off a penalty corner, followed by Mandeep Singh in the 30th minute.
The credit for India’s third goal and the fourth, scored by Sumit — a deft reverse-stick lob to beat Japanese goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa in the 39th minute — must equally go to ‘Player of the Match’ Manpreet for the way the former skipper set up his team-mates, including on at least three other occasions when the ball didn’t end up in goal.
Selvam scoring the fifth and final goal in the 51st minute was the perfect way it could have ended for Chennai, who are having a taste of international hockey after a gap of a decade and a half.
It was also the perfect memory for India’s veteran goalkeeper and former captain PR Sreejesh, who played his 300th match and was also felicitated before the start of the match by a host of dignitaries, including India’s table tennis icon Achanta Sharath Kamal.
(HI president Dilip Tirkey and PR Sreejesh)
India will now take on Malaysia for the title on Saturday.
The Malaysians entered their maiden men’s ACT final with a 6-2 hammering of defending champions South Korea, after having won five bronze medals in the previous editions of the tournament.
Four of India’s five strikes were field goals, away from the norm post the World Cup, with Harmanpreet’s PC strikes leading the charts. The defence too maintained its structure, allowing the Japanese just one shot at goal and no penalty corners at all.
“I don’t mind if it is a field goal or penalty-corner goals. The best we can do is have a balance of both…It was pleasing we did what we planned to do,” said India coach Craig Fulton.
The final will be a different ball game, especially coming the day after the semifinal without rest in the hot and humid Chennai conditions.
Harmanpreet admitted that, while saying the focus will be to maintain the same momentum as Friday.
“A final is totally different. Focus will be the same tomorrow: Play well in defence and create opportunities,” said the India captain.