Bhubaneswar: When Japan exploited weak areas in the Indian defence and scored two goals to make it 2-2 in the first half, it seemed like Graham Reid's India will once again suffer in a knockout match. But that was not the script for Friday's victory as India thrashed Japan 7-2 to ensure they make it to the Olympic Qualifiers.
It was a win that pleased head coach Reid the most in the tournament.
"I think it's the first game where I was almost satisfied," Reid said in the post-match press conference. "That's the great thing about getting better and improving. You should always be trying to find things to get better at. We gave away an early goal, and it's always difficult to come back."
Japan opened the scoring in the match after resisting early pressure from India. The counter-attacking gameplan was working for Siegfried Aikman until Reid decided to slow things down in the second quarter. Indian players started controlling the game and added five more goals to the scoreline from 2-2 to take the game away from the frustrated Japanese players.
Aikman expressed displeasure at the way the initial penalty corners were given in favour of India but accepted that his players lost discipline as the match progressed.
"I think we played well, were good in the game. I think we were unlucky. We conceded PCs (penalty corners) which in our opinion were not PCs. Unfortunately, what always happens, those turned into goals. We were able to fight back, recover. They scored again, we recovered. After that we lost our head, discipline," Aikman said.
India's first three goals came from penalty corners and the Japanese players were seen arguing with the umpire with certain decisions. It was evident that the players were getting frustrated as India was from converting penalty corner chances.
"Mentally you have to deal with disappointment. We could have handled it well. Still, we tried to play as well as we could. But there was some frustration. We were unlucky, let me say that.
"We certainly lost the momentum. That I can't deny. We tried to keep our gameplan, tried to counter-attack tactically. Twice the umpire was in between our pass. Unfortunate, it happens. But those little details matter. For us, it's a lesson to be better prepared for those things. We lost the momentum and India got it."
Japanese players were also taken aback by the physicality of the game, with two of their players getting off the field on a stretcher. The heat only made it more difficult for them.
"India played a mature game. Hit the ball, were more physical. But it should be like that. We have to deal with it. Our players are not used to this kind of physicality. We will not try to hurt them. But they don't care, want to get the ball to their players. We were a bit soft. Something I have noticed in the past too, it's difficult for us."
For Reid and team, a target was achieved on Friday by staying on course for the Olympics qualification, but the coach says the job is done yet as the team has to qualify for the main event in Tokyo and there's also a final to be played on Saturday.
"The most important is that this is great practice for us. It's the final (on Saturday). We are trying to win tomorrow (15 June). Yes, great to qualify (for Olympic qualifiers) but the focus is to prepare for South Africa and give our best.
"Finals are always different games. We all have watched more than enough to know that finals are different to round games, the pressure is different. It's going to be a really interesting and good challenge for us," Reid said.
After playing his 100th match for India on Friday, defender Harmanpreet Singh credited the mindset of the team for overcoming a tricky challenge against Japan.
"Any match, any tournament, the mindset is to go step by step. Of course, it was a big match. We wanted to win before thinking about the next match. We don't think about losing. Our mindset is always to win. Nobody comes to lose. We put in a good effort, and won because of that."
In the earlier semi-final, South Africa left it late to clinch the match against the US and made it to the final. After beating the US 2-1, South Africa will now face India in the final on Saturday (7.15 IST) at the Kalinga Stadium. The match for the third place between the US and Japan will start at 5 pm.
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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2019 12:36:16 IST