Indian hockey team striker Mandeep Singh, quite literally, stole the match from Japan with a hat-trick to ensure the team stayed in the race for a spot in the final at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Ipoh, Malaysia, on Wednesday.
India came back from behind twice to beat Japan 4-3 in the gripping match on Wednesday.
Defender Rupinder Pal Singh (sixth minute) opened the scoring for India with a penalty-corner conversion. Kazuma Murata (10th minute) equalised for Japan before they took the lead through a strike from Heita Yoshihara (43rd minute). Mandeep equalised two minutes later but only to see Japan take leave again, just seconds afterwards, through a goal from Genki Mitani.
Mandeep was, however, in a hot streak scored in the 51st and 58th minute of the match to clinch a thrilling win for India, becoming the third player in this edition of the tournament, after Australia’s Trent Mitton and Tom Craig, to score a hat-trick.
India now have seven points from four matches. They started their campaign with a 2-2 draw with Great Britain in the opening match of the tournament.
They had then defeated New Zealand 3-1 before going down by a similar margin to favourites Australia on Tuesday.
They will next play hosts Malaysia in their final group game. India’s fate in the tournament, however, is hinged on the result of the match between Australia and Great Britain later on Wednesday.
The Aussies, defending champions, are unbeaten in the tournament and are through to the final. If Britain manage to beat them, then India won’t make it even if they beat Malaysia in the final game.
Knee injury rules Sreejesh out
Indian hockey team captain and goalkeeper PR Sreejesh has been ruled out of the ongoing Sultan Azlan Shah Cup due to a knee injury he suffered in the match against defending champions Australia.
Sreejesh has a painful right knee due to a ligament injury that generally takes two to three months to heal, a team source said ahead of India’s match against Japan.
The 28-year-old Sreejesh was using a crutch for support as he accompanied the Indian team to the ground, but sat in the galleries as the teams lined up for the match.
He had hobbled off the pitch in the first quarter of the game against Australia on Tuesday due to a painful knee after diving to reach a diagonal ball by an Australia striker into the Indian circle.
“The scan on his right knee today revealed the extent of injury. He will play no role in the ongoing tournament and could even miss the World League Semifinals in London in June,” said an official.
“Sreejesh has been told that his injury will take 2-3 months to heal,” he said.
Why risk him aggravating the injury when India are already assured of a spot in the World League Finals that is to be hosted in the Indian city of Bhubaneswar,” the official added.