Hangzhou: Playing a brand of hockey that has led to its recent metamorphosis into a medal contender in the world, the Indian men’s hockey team defeated Japan 5-1 to re-established its superiority in the continent by winning the gold medal in the Asian Games for the fourth time in 19 editions.
The bonus they gained for their consistent performance in the hockey competition in Hangzhou was a berth in next year’s Paris Olympics, becoming the fourth team after hosts France, EuroNations Champions the Netherlands and Australia to seal their berths.
On Friday, India defeated Japan 5-1 in the final, riding on a brace by skipper Harmanpreet Singh (32nd, 59th minutes), while Manpreet Singh (25th min), Amit Rohidas (36th min) and Abhishek (48th min) struck a goal each. Japan’s lone consolation was scored by Seren Tanaka off an indirect penalty corner in the 51st minute.
This is India’s fourth-ever gold medal in the Asian Games after 1966 in Bangkok, 1998 in Bangkok and 2014 in Incheon, India has also won nine silver medals and three bronze medals in the Asian Games so far.
India joined South Korea as the second-most successful team in Asian Games men’s hockey with four gold medals each. Pakistan are the most successful with eight gold medals.
The first quarter had both teams struggling to improve themselves and Japan did well to counter the Indian forwards. India had a couple of chances including their first penalty corner but Japan’s goalkeeper Tukumi Kitagawa blocked Harmanpreet’s drag flick.
The second quarter looked like going the same way with the Indians looking for inspiration upfront, their attempts to breach the Japanese defence proving futile as the Japanese defended strongly in the final third.
The Tokyo Olympic Games bronze medallists, who are ranked fourth in the world, earned their second penalty corner in this period but Amit Rohidas’ shot off an indirect variation sailed over.
But five minutes before the half-time hooter, India found some inspiration upfront and a good attack resulted in their first goal. Former skipper Manpreet Singh capitalised on a good attack and struck a powerful reverse-hit home to score India’s opener.
After the change of ends, India earned three penalty corners back-to-back and off the third, Harmanpreet Singh slammed home a rebound to make it 2-0.
India continued to attack, and with a full-capacity crowd mostly rooting for it, they earned another penalty corner in the 36th minute. Amit Rohidas blasted home a direct drag flick to make it 3-0.
Despite a three-goal lead, India maintained a full press on the Japanese defence, not allowing the opposition any room to make a move of their own as the third quarter came to a close.
Abhishek, who had scored twice when India defeated Japan 4-2 win in the preliminary group stage in Hangzhou, made it 4-0 when he muscled his way into the shooting circle and took a blistering shot past the goalkeeper.
Japan, who earned their first penalty corner in the 51st minute, found the back of the net in and off a re-take Serene Tanaka deflected the ball into the goal to make it 1-4 for Japan.
The dethroned champions tried to mount a few more attacks but the Indian defence dealt with those easily.
India then added one more goal in the 59th minute with Harmanpreet Singh slamming home a drag flick to make it 5-1.
This is India’s biggest win in the Asian Games men’s hockey final. In 1966, India defeated Pakistan 1-0 in the final while the next two wins came in tie-breaker after the team was held to draw in regulation time.