Asia Cup hockey: Rajkumar Pal’s solitary goal secures bronze medal for India

Rajkumar Pal’s strike in the first quarter helped India beat Japan 1-0 for the third-place finish.

By Ali Asgar Nalwala
Picture by Hockey India

The Indian men’s hockey team beat Japan and settled for the bronze medal at the Asia Cup 2022 in Jakarta, Indonesia on Wednesday.

This was India’s 10th medal from the 11 editions of the continental meet held so far. India, champions in 2003, 2007 and 2017, have finished runners-up on five occasions and have won the bronze medal twice.

Against Japan, Rajkumar Pal (6’) scored the solitary goal of the match. Indian captain Birendra Lakra was declared man of the match in the bronze medal playoff.

India, fourth in the latest world rankings, started the match with high intensity against the world No. 17 Japan but failed to convert two early penalty corners which came their way. 

Midfielder Rajkumar Pal then opened the scoring in the sixth minute from the point-blank range after receiving a precise pass from Uttam Singh, who did well to beat a few Japanese defenders on his way forward. 

Japan, despite matching India in terms of possession and shots on goals, lacked the finishing touch in the attacking third.

Japan, looking for an equaliser, started pressing hard in the second quarter but Birendra Lakra-led side committed numbers in the Indian half and cramped the Japanese forwards for space.

Japan won two penalty corners in the ensuing minutes but failed to convert them. India tried to double their lead in the final minutes of the second quarter with an unmarked Karthi Selvam drawing out the Japanese goalkeeper. However, Karthi Selvam could not convert the chance.

Japan, with 53 per cent possession, made nine circle penetrations compared to India’s seven at the end of the first half.

India man-marked Japanese forwards in the second half and defended strongly on both flanks in the first nine minutes. 

The Japanese team then earned their third penalty corner of the game which was driven wide by a Japanese drag-flicker.

India tried to score their second goal through a counter-attack but goal-scorer Rajkumar Pal’s strike from the centre of the D went over the top of the goal.

Japan tried a variation in the next penalty corner but Birendra Lakra’s anticipation on the right of the goal foiled the Japanese attempt with a minute to play in the third quarter. 

The final fifteen minutes of play saw Japanese players press forward and earn a flurry of penalty corners in the 48th minute. Indian rushers, however, bravely fended off the Japanese drag-flickers to protect the slender one-goal lead.

Japan earned one more penalty corner which was put across by Indian defenders. 

India tried to take advantage of Japan’s attacking formation and came close twice in the next few minutes. However, Uttam Singh and other Indian forwards could not capitalise on the opportunities.

India were reduced to 10 men for the last four minutes with Pawan Rajbhar shown a green card for an infringement and then Manjeet getting a yellow for blocking Japanese free-hits.

However, India played out the final minutes of the match safely and secured their second Asia Cup bronze medal. 

India, who were the defending Asia Cup hockey champions heading into the tournament, could not progress to the final from the Super 4s because of their lower goal difference of +1 compared to finalists South Korea’s +2 and Malaysia's +5.

Four-time champions South Korea will face Malaysia, who will be looking for their first title, later in the Asia Cup final on Wednesday.

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