India outplayed reigning Asian Games champions Japan 7-2 to enter the the final of the FIH Series Finals in Bhubaneswar on Friday, thus also securing a place in the year-end qualifiers for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In Saturday's final, they will face South Africa, who grabbed a late win against the U.S. earlier.
Returning to the side after a long injury lay-off, Ramadeep Singh (23', 37') scored twice, while Harmanpreet Singh (7'), Varun Kumar (14'), Hardik Singh (25'), Gursahibjit Singh (43') and Vivek Sagar Prasad (47') also got onto the scoresheet.
Japan's goals were scored by Kenji Kitazato (2nd) and Kota Watanabe (20th).
Japan took a surprise lead in the second minute from a counter attack. Kitazato slammed home past Indian goalkeeper Krishan Bahadur Pathak after receiving a pass from Kenta Tanaka from their first attack.
India came back strongly, creating a flurry of opportunities. Young Gursahibjit Singh was guilty of wasting a golden chance in the fifth minute from close range after being beautifully set up by Nilkanta Sharma and Ramadeep.
Two minutes later, India secured back-to-back penalty corners and Harmanpreet equalised from the second chance.
The Indians kept up the pressure and earned three consecutive short corners in the 14th minute, and Varun beat Japan defence with a powerful grounded flick to hand the hosts a 2-1 lead.
Japan caught the Indian defence off-guard once again in the 20th minute with another fine counter-attack when Watanabe scored after being set up by Kazuma Murata.
Japan's joy was shortlived as India restored their lead three minutes later through Ramadeep, who scored his first goal for the country after returning from a year-long injury hiatus. Ramadeep scored with his trademark deflection from the near post after a Gurinder Singh pass from the right flank. Minutes later, India made it 4-2 when Hardik scored with a slap shot from the top of the D.
After the change of ends, the play was mostly in the Japan half as India kept up the pressure to score three more goals.
South Africa grab late win
The semifinal between South Africa, the second highest ranked team in the tournament at 16, and world no. 25 USA was a hard-fought one, with the U.S. looking on course for another upset win till the 42nd minute.
Despite South Africa dominating the early exchanges, the U.S. took the lead in the 15th minute through a penalty corner conversion by Aki Kaeppeler. South Africa pressed hard for an equalizer in the second quarter, but failed to utilise the chances. The finally found a goal through Austin Smith, who converted a penalty corner in the 42nd minute.
South Africa capitalised on a defensive lapse and struck just at the stroke of the final hooter through Nicholas Spooner to make the final. The win came as a sweet revenge for them, having lost 2-0 to the U.S. in the pool stages.
Earlier in the day, Russia beat Poland in the fifth-place clash.