Striker Mandeep Singh scored a brilliant hat-trick to hand India a fighting 4-3 victory over lower-ranked Japan in a round robin match of the 26th Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament.
Having squandered the early lead provided by a penalty corner conversion from Rupinderpal Singh, India were trailing when Mandeep got into his goal-scoring act in the second half. It needed two goals from Mandeep in the last 10 minutes to help India avoid a stunning loss.
Neutralising India's early lead through Kazuma Murata's fine deflection in the 10th minute, Japan led twice in the game with goals coming from Heita Yoshihara (43rd) and Genki Mitani (45th), but they could not overcome Mandeep's brilliance.
Mandeep got into the goal-scoring act with a fine touch on a through ball from Harmanpreet Singh in the 45th minute. He then came back to tap in a square ball from Sardar Singh in the 51st minute and then ensured three points for India by capitalising on a diagonal ball from Rupinderpal in the 58th minute.
Mandeep's three goals kept India's challenge alive in the six-nation tournament, taking them to seven points from four matches. The win gave India a chance of making the second successive final in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup after having finished runners-up behind Australia last year.
India opened the account through Rupinderpal, who converted the first penalty corner in the eighth minute with a rasping flick into the right side of the net. Japan wasted their first penalty corner in the ninth minute as the push could not be stopped cleanly. Japan were down to 10 men when they got the equaliser a minute later. The Indian defenders were reduced to the role of spectators as Japanese striker Murata flicked in from the goalmouth after picking a cross from Masaki Ohashi on the right.
Harmanpreet's stinging flick on the second penalty corner nearly got India their second goal in the 14th minute, but the ball landed on the fingers of a defender's stick-holding hand and the rebound was wasted by Yousuf Affan.
Japan took a 2-1 lead in the 42nd minute when Yoshihara was allowed to run unchallenged to the top of the box and his shot beat Indian goalkeeper Akash Chikte for a soft goal. India have lost the services of their first-choice goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, whose right knee injury sustained in Tuesday's game against Australia has ruled him out from the remainder of the tournament.
Mandeep's first goal, a deflection from Harmanpreet's firm shot into the circle, brought India level at 2-2 in the 45th minute. But India joy was shortlived as Japan restored their lead within half a minute.
Japan went 3-2 ahead as Mitani's rasping flick in a crowded circle could not be blocked by Indian custodian Chikte. The ball went off the goalkeeper's glove into the top of the net. Rattled by the strike, India added thrust to their raids and were rewarded when Sardar shrugged away two defenders to square the ball across the goalmouth. Mandeep applied the finishing touch by easing the ball over the goalline to make it 3-3 in the 51st minute.
Mandeep made it a memorable day when he collected a diagonal ball from Rupinderpal on the right and put the reverse drive past Japanese goalkeeper Suguru Shimmoto to secure the hard-fought win and full points from the encounter.