India would look to maintain intensity throughout 60 minutes of the game when the hosts take on Japan in the semifinal of the Asian Champions Trophy hockey tournament on Friday.
Undoubtly, India will start as favourites after their unbeaten run in the round-robin stage, winning four matches and drawing one to top the points table. However, India would be wary of Japan, the only side the hosts have not beaten. The league match between the two sides had ended in a 1-1 draw.
There is a wide gap in the world rankings between the two teams as India are at fourth spot as against 19 of Japan. But the home side should not forget that they had lost to Japan 3-5 in the semifinals of the 2021 edition in Dhaka after thrashing their opponents 6-0 in the league stage.
India have scored the most number of goals — 20 — so far in this tournament but they missed chances galore against Japan in their league match, and the hosts will have to make amends of their poor finishing against the same opponents on Friday.
Craig Fulton`s side could also utilise just one of the 15 penalty corners they had earned against Japan in the earlier match and they now will have to find ways to score from the PCs.
Following India`s 4-0 thrashing of arch-rivals Pakistan on Wednesday, Fulton noted that it would be vital for his side to maintain consistency in all the four quarters of the match.
“We had some good consistency in each quarter (against Pakistan), which we did the same during the Japan game. We also had more penetration into the circle in each quarter than Japan. So, it will be about maintaining consistency and not doing it just one way,” he said.
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India vice-captain and midfielder Hardik Singh agreed with his coach but felt that besides the final execution inside the box, more patience would be needed to get more goals against Japan.
“We expect to carry the same momentum. But, we still need to have more patience inside the box, which is extremely important. Also, we need to set up the tempo of the game. We will be treating them (Japan) as a top team.”
As far as Japan is concerned, they sneaked into the semifinals ahead of Pakistan on better goal difference, though the two sides collected five points each. Japan had minus two goal difference as against minus five of Pakistan.
Overall, Japan`s performance in the competition has been far from convincing. They managed just a win (vs China) and lost and drawn twice.
Even though, India are favourites to win on Friday, Japan will try to take a cue from their earlier performance against the hosts.
Although Japan have impressed defensively, especially in how their defenders were tackling the Indian attackers during the penalty corners, their attacking line-up has been disappointing.
Before the India vs Japan match, second-placed Malaysia will take on third-placed and defending champions South Korea in the semifinals on Friday.
While the performance of the Koreans has nothing much to write, the Malaysians have been impressive in this competition, managing four wins and a loss.
Judging by the current form, Malaysia would start as favourite against Korea.
(With PTI inputs)