Kuantan (25 Oct, 2016): Pakistan, the two-time champions, faced the brunt from a highly motivated Japan before prevailing 4-3 in this twice rain-interrupted QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy match at the Wisma Belia Hockey Stadium in Kuantan today.
In a match that the Pakistanis, ranked World No 13, needed to win badly and move forward for a spot in the semi-finals, the two-time champions found themselves holed up in a dicey and precarious moments which could have gone either way in the end, more so in favour of World No 16, Japan.
Twice Pakistan led but a porous defence allowed the Japanese to claw back 2-2 just seconds before the end of the second quarter and only the Pakistanis only came alive in the third quarter.
India, the 2011 champions, strode gallantly into the semi-finals following a 9-0 drubbing of China today – their second highest score in the tournament after charting Japan’s downfall 10-2 in the opening tie.
Rupinder Singh was on form in penalty corners and scored in the first half to take his tally to eight goals in the tournament. Akashdeep Singh, Affan Yousuf, Jasjit Singh Kular scored two goals each for India and the remaining goal came from Nikkin Thimmiah.
India top the table standings with 10 points from four games and with this massive win over World No.18 China they are guaranteed a place in the semi-finals while Malaysia is second on nine points, Pakistan moved to third (6) followed by Kore a (4), Japan (3) and Japan at the bottom (0).
Muhammad Irfan Jr gave Pakistan a fifth minute lead by clipping onto a fully blasted shot from a teammate outside the left semi-circle that graced past goalkeeper Masahito Kunitomo and into goal.
The Japanese, who lost three matches – losing 2-10 against India, suffered a narrow 1-2 defeat against China before going down 2-7 against the Malaysians, came back to exhibit a thrilling performance to level 1-1 through Seren Tanaka’s field goal in the 10th minute.
But a dominant Pakistan was back in control two minutes later to go 2-1 up via a Muhammad Aleem Bilal penalty corner but was soon deadlocked at 2-2 as Kenta Tanaka fired from a field goal.
The second half was twice held up by heavy rain causing an almost 30 minutes of stoppage in play. Upon resumption Pakistan went 4-2 ahead through Muhammad Rizwan Sr field goal (36th) and Aleem Bilal’s penalty corner (52nd) before Japan narrowed the gap 4-3.
The Pakistanis came under intense pressure from the Japanese in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter and were lucky to escape with this win that has given them brighter hope of advancing to the semi-finals. They need to beat China in the last match on Thursday.
“Japan already played three games and they have worked on their mistakes. The top teams always display good hockey,” said Pakistan head coach Khawaja Junaid. “That element is always prevailing in sportsmen. This win is most important for us and we have to learn from today’s game and not repeat the mistakes against China.”
The absence of key defender and regular captain Mohammad Irfan has been a big blow to the Pakistan team with the replacements not able to organise the defence.
India’s head coach, Roelant Oltmans, said he is looking towards the match against Malaysia on Wednesday but warned his players not to be over confident against the host.
“The same way how we approach Korea and Pakistan will be the same way we will approach Malaysia tomorrow (Wednesday). Malaysia is lucky because they have two rest days and I have to prepare my players for the next game which is 24 hours away and that will be our challenge,” said Oltmans.
“We are looking forward to the match tomorrow because Malaysia is a nice team with good individual skills and the team set-up is bett.er as the team has improved a lot since last year,” he added.
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