Hockey: Varun Kumar and Simranjeet Singh’s heroics earn India a win over Japan in Azlan Shah Cup opener

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The Indian men’s hockey team embarked their Sultan Azlan Shah Cup tourney sojourn in Malaysia with a bang as they trounced Japan 2-0 in their opener on Saturday. Goals from Varun Kumar and Simranjeet Singh did the trick for India, who is the only team in the competition without a permanent head coach.

India fought off Asian Games gold medallist Japan's challenge in the Azlan Shah Cup
India fought off Asian Games gold medallist Japan’s challenge in the Azlan Shah Cup

The first quarter of the India-Japan match was an insipid one as neither side could break the defense and the scoreline remained as it started. But, eight minutes into the second quarter, India found themselves on the front foot as Varun Kumar drag-flicked the ball home after winning a penalty corner.

The Men in Blue could have doubled the lead in the second quarter itself had Mandeep Singh’s shot gone in after Sumit Kumar Jr. set him up with just four minutes remaining on the clock. In the 33rd minute of the game, Japan won their first penalty corner but goalkeeper PR Sreejesh dived full-stretch to deny them the equalizer.

Japan didn’t slow down their urgency to find a goal and took out their goalkeeper in the 55th minute to have an extra man in the outfield. However, the idea backfired as Simranjeet Singh made them pay in the dying embers of the match.

India will next face South Korea on Sunday in their second group fixture, which also involves Malaysia, Canada, and Poland. The top two teams in the pool will square off against each other in the grand finale on 30th March.