India, Pakistan off to flying start
Dhaka, Bangladesh - Title favourite India produced a solid performance to trounce Japan 5-1 in its Pool A opening match while title contender Pakistan sent in a strong signal as it routed hosts Bangladesh 7-0 in the second match of the same pool at the tenth edition of the men' Asia Cup hockey tournament at the Maulana Bhashani National Stadium on Wednesday.
India, playing its first tournament under its new coach, Marijne Sjoerd of the Netherlands, meant business and found the net in each quarter, twice in the third, to steamroll its less-fancied opponents.
S V Sunil (third minute), Lalit Upadhyay (22nd), Ramandeep Singh (33rd) and Harmanpreet Singh (35th and 48th) were on target. Japan's lone goal came through Kenji Kitazato's stick in the 4th minute.
Pakistan displayed no mercy towards the hosts as Abu Bakar Mahmood slammed in three goals in the 18th, 41st and 50th minute to seal a big win.
Drag-flicker Mahmood struck the first goal and Ammad Shakeel Butt made it 2-0 off a penalty stroke in the 33rd minute and Arslan Qadir made it 3-0.
In the final quarter, Mahmood converted his second penalty corner and Butt increased the margin to 5-0 in the 47th minute.
Three minutes later Mahmood scored again and Qadir rounded off the tally in the 60th minute.
Earlier, world No 6 India did not look rusty under Sjoerd, who took charge of the team last month following the sudden sacking of Roelant Oltmans, another Dutchman.
India was quick to get off the blocks when Sunil, after a fine one-two with Akashdeep Singh, pushed the ball in an open net. But India's joy was shortlived as Japan struck in the next minute through Kitazato's field strike.
The Indians completely dominated the proceedings and exploited every single bit of space given by the Japanese. They utilised both the wings to perfection to set up their attacks.
India got its first of its four penalty corners in the 21st minute but Harmanpreet's flick didn't have enough power to trouble the Japanese citadel. An inch perfect scoop from Harmanpreet from the halfway mark found Lalit inside the D and the striker slotted home with a reverse shot after brilliantly controlling the ball.
Two minutes into the second half India extended its lead through Ramandeep, who scored a gem with a thundering shot from a tight angle after being set up by Sunil. Next it was Harmanpreet's turn to register his name in the scoresheet and the drag-flicker did so by converting India's second penalty corner in the 40th minute.
Minutes later, Akashdeep missed a sitter. Sunil found an unmarked Akashdeep inside the circle but he hit the ball straight to the pads of the Japanese goalie despite having all the time to find his spot.
But soon Harmanpreet made the score line 5-1 in favour of India, scoring with a fine variation from their third penalty corner.
India earned two more penalty corners in the final minutes of the game but wasted both. The Indians will next play hosts Bangladesh in its next Pool A match on Friday while Pakistan will take on Japan.
Oman, coached by K K Poonacha, will play its opening match in Pool B against defending champion South Korea on Thursday. The match starts at 3.30pm, Oman time.
Malaysia take on China in the first game of the day in Pool B action.
Indian players celebrate a goal against Japan in a Pool A match of the Asia Cup hockey tournament on Wednesday
Action from the Pool A match between Pakistan and hosts Bangladesh in Dhaka on Wednesday