The Indian Junior Women's Hockey Team edged out hosts Japan 1-0 in a neck and neck Semi-Final clash of the Women's Junior Asia Cup 2023 in Kakamigahara, Gifu Prefecture, Japan on Saturday. Sunelita Toppo (47′) scored the only goal of the game.
The victory means that the Indian team will compete in the prestigious tournament's Final for the second time, having previously reached the summit clash in 2012.
India qualified for the FIH Junior Hockey Women's World Cup 2023 by reaching the tournament's Final, which will be held in Santiago, Chile from 29 November to December 10, 2023, as the top three teams from the Women's Junior Asia Cup 2023 were set to qualify for the Junior World Cup.
India went on the offensive right away and played a pressing game to put Japan under pressure. However, the hosts not only stood firm to prevent India from taking an early lead, but they also began creating scoring opportunities to put pressure back on India. Japan also won a couple of penalty corners but failed to convert them, resulting in a goalless first quarter.
The second quarter was as intense as the first with both teams attacking relentlessly to break the deadlock. Japan came close to scoring a couple of times but India's goalkeeper Madhuri Kindo made some fine saves to deny the hosts from finding the back of the net. Notably, neither India nor Japan were able to score in the second quarter as both sides went into the half-time break with the score levelled at 0-0.
The third quarter witnessed Japan keeping the possession and making more attacks to keep India on backfoot. However, the Indian team got the perfect opportunity to take the lead when they were awarded a penalty stroke, but they failed to capitalise on it. Despite making several chances, both teams were still unsuccessful in finding the back of the net as the third quarter also ended goalless.
The fourth quarter started with India dominating the game and it paid off when Sunelita Toppo (47') scored a brilliant field goal to give the Indian team a much-needed 1-0 lead. With the scoreline in their favour, India shifted their focus on keeping possession while playing more aggressively to deny Japan from netting the equaliser and the strategy paid dividends as the match ended 1-0 in favour of India.
The Indian Junior Women's Hockey Team will now play against China or Korea in the final of the Women's Junior Asia Cup 2023 on 11th June at 14:30 hrs IST.