Indian hockey players during a classification match of the 2023 Men's FIH Hockey World Cup against Japan / Photo: PTI
Rourkela: Under-fire captain Harmanpreet Singh finally came good with his drag flick as he and young striker Abhishek struck a brace each as India demolished Asian Games champions Japan 8-0 in an inconsequential FIH Men's World Cup classification match here on Thursday.
India, who had made a shock exit from the showpiece event after losing to New Zealand in their crossover match, played their best game but it came too late in the tournament.
The hosts, who scored four goals each in the third and fourth quarters, will now play South Africa in the ninth to 12th place match on Saturday.
Harmanpreet (46th and 59th minutes) struck twice in the fourth quarter off penalty corners, which should boost his confidence a bit after repeated failures with his drag flick throughout the tournament. He had taken most of India's 26 PCs before Thursday's classification match.
He also took the majority of the 11 PCs India earned on Thursday.
He had also scored once earlier from his drag flick in the dying moments of the final Pool D match against Wales, but that was after the opponents had taken out the goalkeeper in lieu of an outfield player.
The 23-year-old Abhishek, known only by his first name, scored in the 36th and 44th minutes -- both field goals -- while Mandeep Singh (33rd), Vivek Sagar Prasad (40th), Manpreet Singh (59th) and Sukhjeet Singh (60th) were the other goal-getters for India.
After a goalless first half, India scored four goals in the third quarter and added four more in the fourth in a lopsided match, where more than 60 per cent possession was with the hosts.
A full-capacity crowd turned up at the Birsa Munda Stadium to watch the classification match and the spectators were treated to the home side's most convincing win in the tournament.
India were the dominant side in the first quarter with more circle penetration. The home side earned back-to-back PCs in the 12th minute but Harmanpreet could not score from both. Raj Kumar Pal struck a powerful reverse hit in the 14th minute but missed the target.
Abhishek had a golden chance with a few seconds left in the first quarter but his shot was blocked by Japanese goalkeeper Yoshikawa Takashi.
Japan earned back-to-back PCs just as the second quarter started but wasted both.
India quickly counter-attacked and Akashdeep Singh's snapshot from the top of the striking circle was again blocked by Takashi. Harmanpreet then wasted India's third PC.
Lalit Upadhyay had another go at the Japanese goal but Takashi was at it, denying India yet again.
India had at least 16 circle penetrations till the half time as against nine by Japan but that domination did no translate into goals.
India scored three minutes after the start of third quarter from a penalty-corner variation. Amit Rohidas' push was deflected into the goal by Mandeep Singh for his first goal of the tournament.
Three minutes later, Abhishek made it 2-0 as his reverse sweep off a fine pass from Vivek Sagar Prasad beat the Japanese goalkeeper.
India's dominance continued to grow as the hosts took the game away from Japan's reach with their third goal in the 40th minute from their sixth PC.
Prasad scored his maiden World Cup goal after Harmanpreet's drag flick ricocheted from a defender's stick.
Abhishek completed his brace a minute before the end of the third quarter as his high reverse shot following a pass from Prasad found the net.
Harmanpreet finally found the target with his drag flick in the first minute of the fourth quarter as India continued their goal-scoring spree.
Senior player Manpreet and Sukhjeet joined the party with goals towards the end of the match.
In other classification matches here, South Africa beat Malaysia 6-3 while debutants Wales defeated France 2-1 in the penalty shootout to register their maiden World Cup win after the sides were locked 2-2 at the end of regulation time.
Wales will face Argentina, who hammered neighbours Chile 8-0 in another classification match, in the 9th to 12th place match on Saturday. PTI