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India thrash Uzbekistan to storm into FIH Series Finals semis



India finished atop Pool A with an all-win record.

Bhubaneswar: Favourites India stormed into the semifinals of the FIH Series Finals hockey meet as they thrashed Uzbekistan 10-0, here on Monday.

Akashdeep Singh netted a hat-trick (11th, 26th and 53rd minute), while Varun Kumar (4th, 22nd minute) and Mandeep Singh (30th, 60th minute) scored a brace each for the hosts.

Amit Rohidas (15th minute), Nilkanta Sharma (27th minute) and Gursahibjit Singh (45th minute) also sounded the board as the Indians had a field day.

India finished atop Pool A with an all-win record and will play the winner of the cross-over match between Japan and Poland in the semifinals on Friday, while the USA, which topped Pool B, will take on the winners of the other cross-over game between Russia and South Africa.

If the scoreline was anything to go by, it was a lopsided affair from the get-go. After five penalty corners, India took the lead in the final one with Varun convering it.

Akashdeep then got on the score-sheet as he found the net from a rebound in the 11th minute. Four minutes later, Rohidas converted a penalty corner to make the scoreline 3-0 in India’s favour.

The story was no different in the second quarter as India netted four more goals to go into the breather with a 7-0 lead.

India dominated after the change of ends as well, but sounded the board only once in the third quarter when Gursahibjit guided the ball into the net in the 45th minute.

Aksshdeep completed his treble before Mandeep netted another in the dying minutes to round off the rout.

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India brush aside South Africa to win FIH Series Finals




India beat South Africa 5-1 in the final.

Bhubaneswar: India beat South Africa 5-1 here on Saturday to win the FIH Series Finals title.

Goals from Varun Kumar (2nd and 49th minute), Harmanpreet Singh (11th and 25th minute), and Vivek Sagar Prasad (35th minute) gave world no. 5 India a routine win over the 16th ranked South Africa, whose lone goal was scored by Richard Pautz in the 53rd minute.

Earlier, Asian Games champion Japan beat the US 4-2 to secure third place. By virtue of reaching the summit clash, both India and South Africa had qualified for the Olympic qualifiers which will be held in either October or November 2019.

It took less than two minutes for India to win their first penalty corner at the Kalinga Stadium. Varun Kumar made no mistake with his drag flick and India drew first blood early in the game. The lead was doubled in the 11th minute when Harmanpreet converted from another PC.

India dominated much of the first quarter and it was only its dying minutes that South Africa got a chance at the goal. Nqobile Ntuli’s reverse hit however, was kept away by Indian custodian Krishan Bahadur Pathak.

India were awarded a penalty stroke when Birendra Lakra was stick-checked inside South Africa’s circle by Jethro Eustice. Harmanpreet put it away easily and India were three goals to the good.

The change of ends led to no change in the flow of the game with India remaining the dominant side in the second half too. The hosts scored in the fifth minute of the third quarter having with Prasad scoring from close range after being set up by Simranjeet Singh.

India could got another penalty corner in the 41st minute but could not convert it with Amit Rohidas’ attempt being kept out by the South African keeper. However, they got another PC in the 49th and this time Varun Kumar made no mistake and the score read 5-0 in India’s favour.

South Africa got a consolation goal thanks to back-to-back penalty corners, the second of which led to a goal. Pautz deflected in Eustice’s flick to reduce the margin to 5-1.

Four minutes from the final hooter, India secured two more penalty corners but failed to convert both. South Africa also got a third penalty corner towards the end but could not add to the singular goal they had scored.

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India rout Japan to enter FIH Series final



Bhubaneswar: India tore apart reigning Asian Games champion Japan 7-2 in a one-sided encounter to storm into the summit clash of the FIH Series Finals hockey tournament here on Friday, assuring themselves a place in the year end’s Olympic qualifying event.

Ramandeep Singh (23rd, 37th) scored a brace in his comeback match after a long injury lay-off while Harmanpreet Singh (7th), Varun Kumar (14th), Hardik Singh (25th), Gursahibjit Singh (43rd) and Vivek Sagar Prasad (47) all got on to the scoresheet.

Japan sounded the board through Kenji Kitazato (2nd) and Kota Watanabe (20th).

India will face South Africa in Saturday’s final while Japan will lock horns with the USA in the third place play-off match.

South Africa had earlier defeated USA 2-1 in the first semifinal.

Japan took the lead in the second minute from a counter attack with Kitazato turning in a pass from Kenta Tanaka from their first attack.

But India got their act together soon after, as Harmanpreet equalised from a second penalty corner.

Varun then beat the Japan defence with a powerful grounded flick to hand the hosts a 2-1 lead.

In the 20th minute, Japan scored their second goal from a counter-attack as Watanabe sounded the board after being set up by Kazuma Murata.

India restored their advantage three minutes later through Ramandeep, who scored his first goal for the country after returning from a year-long injury break.

Minutes later, India made it 4-2 when Hardik scored. There was no looking back from then on as Ramandeep scored his second goal of the day in the 37th minute while Gursahibjit and Vivek Sagar Prasad also netted from field efforts to register an emphatic win after the change of ends.

The FIH Series Finals provide two spots in the Olympic Qualifiers to be held in October-November this year.

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India brace for Samurai challenge in FIH Series Finals semis

Errol D’Cruz



New Delhi: India may just find themselves under additional pressure when they take on Japan in the FIH Series Finals semifinal in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

The eight-nation tournament is a step toward Olympic qualification.

India, though well ahead in the World Rankings at 5th as opposed to Japan’s 18th, need to cross the semifinal hurdle to book their spot in the Olympic qualifiers scheduled for October-November.

Japan, as hosts and Asian Games champions, have already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Siegfried Aikman’s team is likely to play without that element of pressure – and fear – when they tread the blue pitch at the Kalinga Stadium.

The hosts, coached by Graham Reid of Australia, though, are expected to pack too many guns for the sprightly Japanese.

In the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, India trounced the eventual gold medalists 8-0 in a pool match.

They then went one better , walloping the Japanese 9-0 in the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat, Oman, shortly later.

Japan, however, went down by just 2-3 in the semifinals suggesting that a change in strategy and outlook, orchestrated by the astute Aikman, worked wonders.

The Japanese want to put their best foot forward at next year’s Olympics.

They last played at the Games way back in Mexico 1968 but made sure they qualified on merit by winning the 2018 Asian Games final in a thriller against Malaysia.

Japan came back from a 2-5 deficit to take the final against Malaysia to the shootout after a 6-6 draw in regulation time.

It was momentous, not merely for winning their first Asian Games gold medal. The keynote for success was determination and motivation to come back against such odds – the biggest being the assurance of already having clinched a spot in the Olympics as hosts.

“We qualified for the Olympics on merit,” boomed the otherwise soft-spoken Aikman at the 2018 Bhubaneswar World Cup he witnessed as an observer.

“We want to play the FIH Series Finals with the same intensity, especially since it means picking up ranking points ,” the Dutchman of Surinamese and Indian origin asserted.

Aikman must surely repose faith in his sprightly unit. They are fit, speedy and motivated. Players like midfielder Kenta Tanaka and namesake Seren are terrors to any defence.

Hirotaka Zendana packs a mighty punch at penalty corners and Kentaro Fakuda,Shota Yamada and Murata Kazuma can stretch even the best of teams.

No wonder Aikman declared, after Japan’s 6-2 win over Poland in the cross-overs on Wednesday, that his team’s aim is to win the tournament in Bhubaneswar.

His words after the semifinal victory revealed a lack of fear in playing India.

“Life itself is a challenge. Playing a good team like India is a big challenge. And we happily accept this challenge,” the genial Aikman said.

The Dutchman’s grim visage gave way to a beaming smile after the rousing win over Poland.

Japan began the tournament slowly, labouring to a 3-1 win over 39th-ranked Mexico before pulling off a 2-0 win over South Africa ranked two notches above at No. 16.

A 2-2 draw against USA meant Japan finished second in the pool on goal difference and would need to win their crossover to make the semifinals and clash with India prematurely.

The 26th ranked Americans beat 16th ranked-South Africa 2-0, a crucial result in the pool which went a long way to fetching them top spot and a direct entry into the semifinals.

For all that, India know they have the firepower to quell Japan’s bid to make the final and play the winners of South Africa vs USA.

But there have chinks in the armoury.

Poland (ranked No. 21) stifled India’s forward line where the effervescent Akashdeep Singh and sharpshooting Mandeep were kept on a leash even though the hosts won 3-1.

The hosts began in whirlwind fashion, swamping Russia 10-0 but lacked the fluency they would have liked while playing the 22nd ranked nation floundering in the heat that often soared into the mid-30s Celsius.

Then, in a 10-0 win against the lowest ranked team in the competition Uzbekistan, the penalty corner battery left much to be desired despite three drag-flickers – Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar in the team.

Still, India have converted 38.46 percent (10/26) of their penalty corners. Japan have scored from 25 percent (6/24) of the set-piece.

Japan have averaged 36.75 circle entries – the latest gauge for match domination – against India’s 47.66, mainly boosted by playing 43rd ranked Uzbekistan where they registered 63.

The compelling stat, though, is the 13-1 head-to-head win record since 2013 with a 63-15 goal tally in favour of India.

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