Sunelita Toppo fired a field goal as India eked out a narrow 1-0 win overs hosts Japan to enter the final of the Women's Junior Asia Cup hockey tournament here on Saturday. (More Hockey News)
The win also sealed their berth in the FIH Junior World Cup slated to be held in Santiago from November 29-December 10 this year. The top three teams from the Women's Junior Asia Cup 2023 make the cut for the global showpiece.
This was also India's only second entry in Junior Asia Cup final after their 2012.
After goalless three quarters, Sunelita finally broke the deadlock in the 47th minute to seal the issue.
India will play either China or Korea in the final on Sunday.
It was a keenly-contested match between the two sides and both looked in no mood to give an inch to each other till Sunelita's strike.
Both India and Japan had ample scoring chances, including as many as 12 penalty corners each but failed to utilise the set pieces.
India started on an aggressive note and enjoyed early possession besides also making a couple of circle penetrations.
Japan too got their footing in the match after India's early domination.
There was hardly anything to separate between the two sides with the backline of the two teams producing resolute performance.
A minute before the first quarter, Japan secured a penalty corner but Indian custodian Madhuri Kindo easily blocked a feeble dragflick.
Japan ended the quarter on a strong note, earning another penalty corner, but the effort went wide of the target.
Three minutes into the second quarter Japan secured another penalty corner, but Madhuri once again came to India's rescue.
Minutes later it was India's time to earn a penalty corner but Vaishnavi Phalke fired her flick straight to Japanese goalie Misaki Saito.
Both the sides fought tooth and nail, but failed to strike the first blood in the opening two quarters.
After the change of ends, Japan enjoyed the share of possession and had more attacks to keep India on backfoot.
The Indians, however, got a golden chance to take the lead in the 39th minute when they were awarded a penalty stroke, but Annu failed to convert the opportunity.
India were guilty of missing scoring opportunities from penalty corners as the stalemate continued after 45 minutes.
But the deadlock was finally broken two minutes into the final quarter when Toppo scored a brilliant field goal after being fed by good buold up from Mahima Tete and Jyoti Chhatri.
The goal took India's confidence to the next level as they started to call the shots.
But if not Madhuri the outcome could have been different as the Indian goalkeeper pulled off a fine save from a penalty corner in the 58th minute to keep her side's lead intact.