Indian eves suffered a narrow 2-3 defeat against higher-ranked Japan via penalty shootout in the women's competition of the Hero Hockey World League at the floodlit Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi on Friday.
In their biggest match of the tournament, the Indian women were pushed on the backfoot right from the start by the Japanese but the hosts came from behind in the fag end of the match to draw parity and take the game to the penalty shootout.
However, India failed to impress in the penalty shootout with Chanchan Devi Thokchom, skipper Ritu Rani and Vandana Katariya missing in the first three chances, whereas Mazuki Ari and Yuri Nagai found the target for Japan to go 2-0 up.
Soundarya Yendala and Rani scored in the last two chances, while Akiko Kato's goal was disallowed and with captain Rika Komazawa slotting home in the last attempt, it was all over for India as they succumbed to their first defeat in the tournament.
India and Japan are now tied at 10 points with two and three wins from four matches, while Malaysia are placed third in the table with nine points.
Earlier, Shiho Sakai (4th minute) and Akiko (31st) scored for Japan in the first half to go into the break with a 2-0 lead. However, India came back quite dramatically in the dying moments with two quick goals through Soundarya Yendala (62nd) and Anupa Barla (65th).
Japan went on an attacking mode right from the start and drew the first blood when Shiho flicked home in the fourth minute without much ado following a penalty corner. The Japanese eves continued to dominate and kept infiltrating the Indian D. Indian custodian Yogita Bali came up with some good saves to keep the visitors at bay.
The Indians could not pose any threat to the Japanese goalie early on. It was only in the final 10 minutes that the hosts stepped on the gas and made a few inroads in Japanese D but it didn't resulted into any goal. Four minute from half time, Jaspreet Kaur's wrong tackle inside the D handed over a penalty corner to Japan, who didn't make any mistake and scored through Akiko Ota when they tried out a variation.
Two minute later, India got two successive penalty corner opportunities but the hosts squandered both the chances. At the stroke halftime, India were awarded a couple of more opportunities but the hosts failed again to go into the breather 0-2 behind.
In the first half, Jaspreet Kaur and Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam were shown the green card.
Japan earned their third PC five minutes into the second half but the Indian defence was up for the job. Though the hosts showed little more intent after the breather, their sorry state continued as they found it difficult to penetrate the rival defence.
The visitors earned consecutive penalty corners in the 58th minute but Indian defence kept the rivals at bay.
Eight minutes from the hooter, India came back into the match with two quick goals with Soundarya and Anupa being the scorers.
In the 62nd minute, India earned a PC after Japan's Emi Nishikori committed a foul and this time the hosts didn't make any mistake as Soundarya deflected home a grounded hit from Jaspreet.
Three minute later, Anupa brought up the much-needed equaliser when she deflected Rani Ramphal's hit inside the D following a free hit.
"We played well in patches. Two bad errors gave them two goals. In the second half, we increased the tempo and they also got under pressure. The next match will be the grand final now," India coach Neil Hawgood said.
After a rest day on Saturday, India take on Russia while Japan will lock horns with Malaysia and Kazakhstan will face Fiji on Sunday.
In other matches of the day, Russian women's team thrashed Kazakhstan 7-1 in a one-sided match.
Alina Krasnoperova (11th min), Ekaterina Shaburova (25th), Kristina Shumilina (39th), Daria Vasileva (50th), Tamara Ivanova (52nd & 59th) and Evgenia Sorokina (64th) scored for Russia.
Vera Domashneva scored the consolation goal for Kazakhstan in 41st minute.
In another one-sided match, Malaysia mauled minnows Fiji 12-0.
Fazilla Sylvester Silin (6th & 58th), Nadia Abdul (11th, 40th & 68th), Nor Azlin Sumantri (15th & 33rd), Siti Rahmah Othman (43rd), Siti Noor Amarina (44th, 66th & 69th) and Din Juliani Mohamad (53rd) scored for Malaysia.