New Delhi,7 October: Unleashing their furious firepower India dethroned defending champion Japan 5-1 to regain the Asian Games hockey gold, after a gap of nine years, and secure a Paris Olympic berth at the Gongshu Canal Sports Park Stadium in Hangzhou, China. This history was created on Friday.
This was India's fourth gold medal at the Asian Games after the 1966 and 1988 editions in Bangkok and Incheon 2014. For their dominant performance and the all-important victory, Hockey India announced a prize of Rs 5.00 Lakhs for each player of the Team, along with Rs 2.50 Lakhs each for the support staff.
Manpreet Singh (25’), Harmanpreet Singh (32, 59’’), Amit Rohidas (36’) and Abhishek (48’) scored the goals for the winners Tanaka Seren (51’) netted the only goal for Japan.
India controlled the game and dictated the proceedings from the very start. They were dominant both in the defence and while attacking and while the Japanese did their best to counter they could not breach the well-coordinated defence helmed by skipper Harmanpreet.
"I am happy that boys played to the plan, they played an attacking and constructive game, I was confident of this win and i am sure that this win will give a further boost to the sport back in the country," said coach Craig Fulton, under whom this was second title win for the men in blue having earlier won the Asian Champions Trophy at Chennai last month.
With this win, India finished Hangzhou Asiad with a perfect record having topped Pool A after winning all their group games before downing Korea 5-3 in the semi-finals.
Playing to a plan, India never allowed any quarter to Japan from the very start as they created some good openings through Vivek Sagar Prasad and Sukhjeet Singh. The 15th-ranked Japanese team, however, crowded out their circle and managed to thwart the Indian advances.
India had the ball in the Japanese goal in the dying seconds of the opening quarter but it didn’t count as the referee had already whistled for a penalty corner before the ball crossed the goal line. Harmanpreet came close from the resulting penalty corner but goalkeeper Takumi Kitagawa pulled off a brilliant save to deny the Indian captain.
After a goalless opening quarter, India carried out several sorties from both the flanks into the rival defence and could have taken the lead through a well-worked penalty corner routine but Amit Rohidas ended up skying the final shot to let Japan off the hook.
India kept probing for breaking the deadlock but the Japanese defence kept frustrating them time and again. Eventually, it was midfielder and former captain Manpreet Singh who gave them the all-important breakthrough. A searing reverse hit from the edge of the circle left Kitawaga with no chance (1-0).
The goal forced Japan out of its defensive shell. They pushed men forward and finally managed to get a shot on target. Sreejesh, however, was well placed to kick the ball away and preserved India’s 1-0 at half-time.
After the former skipper, it was time for the current captain to come to the fore. Just a couple of minutes after the change of ends, India earned three back-to-back penalty corners. Harmanpreet struck with the third, placing his powerful hit into the bottom left corner for his 12th goal in Hangzhou.
Amit Rohidas made up for his earlier miss soon after and buried a penalty corner straight down the middle. The drag flick hit the Japanese keeper but the power behind the strike carried the ball in.
The 3-0 lead put India firmly in the driver’s seat. The men in blue kept the ball possession controlled the game comfortably from that point onwards and extended their lead through Abhishek. Tanaka Seren pulled one back for Japan from a penalty corner in the fourth quarter but it was a tad too late for the Japanese team to mount a miraculous comeback.
Harmanpreet, with his second goal of the night, wrapped up a 5-1 win and the gold medal in the dying seconds of the match.
"It has been a long wait of 9 years for India to claim the Asian Games Gold medal. We are proud of each and every member of the team and the support staff for their contribution to achieving yet another milestone for the nation in world hockey. This is only the start of the road to the Paris Olympics and we are confident our team will continue to rise even more in the coming year. Congratulations to all the players and the coaches for a memorable victory in Hangzhou." said HI president and Olympian Dilip Tirkey.