Asian Games champions India rallied from a goal down to overcome Japan 2-1 on the opening day of the 25th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament, in Ipoh, on Wednesday.
Squandering a series of scoring chances created by defence-splitting crosses that sailed across the goalmouth, India earned full points against their lowly-ranked opponents through goals from young drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh (24th minute) and captain Sardar Singh (32nd) after Kenji Kitazato (17th) gave Japan the lead.
Earlier, Pakistan banked on two goals from Muhammad Arslan Qadir to open their campaign with a 3-1 victory over Canada in extremely humid conditions at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium.
Qadir opened the account with a field goal in the 27th minute and converted a penalty-corner a minute later to give Pakistan a two-goal lead.
Canada pulled one back through Richard Hildreth's flash strike, but Muhammad Arshad capitalised on a 52nd-minute penalty-corner to seal victory for Pakistan.
Later in the day, India struggled to find a leeway through the hard-working Japanese outfit, nine of whose 18-member squad at this tournament are making their international debut.
After an early foray into the Japanese circle, the Indian strikers were not allowed break into the scoring zone by their opponents, who also managed to exert some pressure on the Indian defenders.
SV Sunil's deflection off a diagonal cross from Ramandeep Singh went over the cross-bar before Japan stunned the Indian defence in the 17th minute.
Kitazato converted Japan's first penalty-corner by placing a fine flick to the left of Indian goalkeeper Harjot Singh.
Taken aback by the reversal, the Indians exerted some pressure and were rewarded with their first penalty-corner, which Harmanpreet converted through a drag-flick into the right corner of the Japanese goal in the 24th minute.
Skipper Sardar then capitalised on a short diagonal pass from Jasjit Singh Kular, on the right wing, to beat Japanese goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa with a reverse shot that went into the far corner of the goal two minutes into the second half.
Thereafter, it was a one-sided affair, albeit with no more goals, as India held the possession and kept control of the game for large periods.
Ramandeep went close to scoring with a great bit of individual play as he burst past four Japanese defenders and Sardar was denied by the goalkeeper in the fourth quarter.
Speaking after the match India’s Chief Coach Roelant Oltmans said: “When players haven’t played competitive matches for a while, they lack a certain amount of match sharpness and that was evident in our play in the first half. But we changed that and came out with the victory, which is the important thing.
"A huge amount of credit must also go to Japan for having given us a tough outing. They are a young team and must be applauded.”
India plays World champions Australia next, on Thursday.