India qualified for the men’s hockey final at the Asian Games after defeating South Korea 5-3 in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
Hardik Singh opened the scoring early in the first quarter as India fired wave after wave of attacks from the Koreans. It set the tone for the midfielder’s performance throughout the game, where he was India’s best player, with his ability to get forward with the ball and ease the team into a game they had to defend for significant periods.
When Mandeep Singh (11th goal of the competition) and Lalit Upadhyay (his 7th) both scored with tap-ins in the first quarter, it looked as if Craig Fulton’s side would run away with the game, but the Koreans pulled things back. Two quick goals early in the second quarter, both scored by Jung Man Jae. The first was a clever deflection into a penalty corner and then another powerful strike into the box.
India then restored their two-goal advantage through Amit Rohidas, who powered home a dragflick to send India into the half-time interval with a two-goal lead. Rohidas’ fourth goal of this Asian Games was a just reward for his performance throughout the game, as he was repeatedly called upon to make critical interceptions in India’s defensive circle.
Varun Kumar’s injury in the first half reduced India’s defensive options, and those were the options they needed, as the Koreans were proving they were no pushovers. India’s excitement rose when they conceded a penalty corner in the third quarter, which Jung again confused to complete his hat-trick.
After some nervy moments in the fourth quarter, Abhishek sealed the win for India with a sensational goal. Mandeep started the move with a sensational skill to bring down an overhead ball and then run through it, Abhishek then advanced to 50-50 in the circle and unleashed a terrific reverse hit that gave the Korean goalkeeper no chance.
After getting through the pool stage, it was only Fulton looking to get his team ahead of the finals, but Varun’s injury would be a concern, just two days before the big game that could secure their place. Paris Olympics.