Paris will remain out of bounds for Indian women's hockey team that eschewed its crisp, short-passing game to bow of 2024 Olympic qualification race with a 0-1 loss to Japan in the third-place match of FIH Qualifiers here on Friday.
Kana Urata's sixth minute strike from the penalty corner turned out to be the winner for Japan as the wheels that were set in motion for the Indian women's team, following a momentous fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, seemed to have come off after the utterly disappointing show in one of its hubs in recent years.
Japan were the early aggressor as they exerted pressure on the Indian defence and, in the process, had the first scoring chance, but an alert Indian skipper Savita in front of the goal came out rushing to kick away the loose ball in the second minute.
The Indians played catch-up as they failed to threaten the Japanese goal despite making some fine circle penetrations. Japan kept up the pressure and secured their first penalty corner minutes later but the Indians defended well.
Sloppy India put under pressure by Japan consistently:
Two minutes later, India conceded another soft penalty corner and this time Urata found the back of the net through the legs of Savita with a grounded flick.
The Indian backline was put under tremendous pressure by the Japanese with some defence-splitting dangerous crosses but the hosts somehow managed to hold on.
In the 12th minute, India had their first real chance. Monika created the opportunity with a fine cross from the right flank but Lalremsiami's deflection went over the bar.
As has been the case in this tournament, the Indians were guilty of not using both the flanks. It was predictable hockey from the Savita-led side as they tried to build most of their attacks from the right flank.
The Indians allowed Japan to control the proceedings as they strayed away from their strength, that is playing attacking hockey. Japan continued from where they left in the first quarter and secured their third set piece just after the restart.
The Indians, however, got some momentum in the second quarter, securing two penalty corners in quick succession.
First, Lalremsiami created the opportunity with a fine 3D skills, but Deepika's effort was saved by Japan goalkeeper Eika Nakamura. Seconds later, India earned another set piece but once again Deepika failed to breach the Japanese defence.
The Indian players didn't show any intent to win 50-50 balls. They also seemed to have run out of ideas, and mostly tried to hit the ball from the 30 yard circle instead of opting for crisp, short passes, which is their strength.
Trailing 0-1, the Indians came out attacking after the change of ends and made a few good moves, but goals eluded them. Six minute into the third quarter, India secured another penalty corner but Deepika failed to get past Nakamura in front of Japan goal.
Lack of execution hurt India:
Minutes later, Japan managed to get a set piece but the Indians defended well to stay in the hunt. Chances came thick and fast for India in the form of penalty corners as they secured back-to-back set pieces in the 43rd minute but Udita Duhan failed to break the Japanese defence with her slap shot.
Japan were put under tremendous pressure by the Indians in the third quarter with repeated forays. The home team's tactics worked as it secured another penalty corner seconds from the final break, but once again, the lack of execution did them in. It was complete domination from the Indians after the change of ends but that did not translate into goals.
India earned as many as nine penalty corners in the entire 60 minutes but their perennial problem of conversion continued. In the last 11 minutes of the game, India secured three penalty corners but Deepika and Udita's poor record continued.
A minute and a half from the final hooter, an unmarked Salima Tete got the best chance for India to equalise but, with only the goalkeeper to beat, she shot wide.