Ipoh, March 23: India beat Asian Games champion Japan 2-0 to begin their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament campaign on a positive note in Malaysia.
India will play Korea in their next league game on Sunday (March 24) before taking on hosts Malaysia (March 26), Canada (March March 27) and Poland (March 29).
The top two teams from the round robin league stage will play in the final on March 30.
Varun Kumar converted a penalty corner in the 24th minute to hand India the lead before Simranjeet Singh (55th) scored a diving field goal from skipper Manpreet Singh's brilliant pass to secure full three points for the five-time champions.
FT: 🇮🇳 2-0 🇯🇵— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) March 23, 2019
India emerge victorious in the opening match of the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019 as they restrict the @asiangames2018 Gold Medalist Japan to a 2-0 scoreline. #IndiaKaGame #SultanAzlanShahCup2019 pic.twitter.com/cMK3RTJnEq
After a goalless first quarter, India slowly took control of the proceedings. Eight minutes into the second quarter, India won a penalty corner and Varun made no mistake in finding the back of the Japanese goal with a powerful dragflick.
The Indian midfield manned by skipper Manpreet and Kothajit Singh stole the limelight by creating numerous scoring chances but the forwardline was guilty of wasting opportunities.
With four minutes remaining for the second hooter, Mandeep Singh missed the target by a whisker after being set up by a good pass from Sumit Kumar (Junior).
In the third quarter, Japan secured their first penalty corner in the 33rd minute but India custodian PR Sreejesh did well to thwart the danger.
The following minutes saw both India and Japan create scoring opportunities but in vain.
With two minutes remaining for the third hooter, Japanese striker Kenji Kitazato took a brave shot on goal but missed the post by a big margin.
Playing in overcast conditions with temperature hovering around 28 degrees, India continued its hunt for a second goal and earned a penalty corner within minutes of the fourth quarter.
But this time man-of-the-match Varun missed the mark, allowing Japan to launch a quick counter attack, which was kept at bay by Birendra Lakra's alertness.
.@varunhockey was adjudged as the Man of the Match in the opening encounter of the 28th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup 2019 for seeing India through with a crucial goal!#IndiaKaGame #SultanAzlanShahCup2019 pic.twitter.com/XFlUZrS4yT— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) March 23, 2019
Japan removed their goalkeeper to add an extra man in the 55th minute but the tactic backfired with India making use of the opportunity to double their lead. It was a diving effort by Simranjeet that put India ahead.
With just two minutes remaining, Japan secured another penalty corner but the attempt was well-defended by Surender Kumar, backed by goalkeeper Krishan Pathak, who replaced Sreejesh after half-time.
(With PTI inputs)