Defending champions India will be hoping to secure a spot in the final of the fifth Men’s Asian Champions Trophy hockey meet when they take on Japan in the semi-final encounter at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Saturday.
The defending champions have remained unbeaten in the competition so far as they topped the pool standings in the round-robin stage by accumulating 13 points from five matches via four wins and a draw.
India started the competition with a 11-0 victory over hosts Oman, and then came from behind to defeat arch-rivals Pakistan 3-1 in their second match.
The semi-final on Saturday will be a rematch of India and Japan’s third round-robin encounter where the World No. 5 had showcased their dominance to run away with a 9-0 victory over World Number 16.
However, a rusty performance from the Indians saw them draw their fourth match against Malaysia 0-0 where the team wasted several chances, but the attackers did come good in their last match as they defeated South Korea 4-1 to progress to the semi-finals.
Captain Manpreet Singh, who scored a stunning individual goal against Pakistan, believes that his team has the chance to peak at the right time when they play the semi-final against Japan.
“I think in the recent tournaments we have played this year, we have always started the competitions well but we have not been able to finish as well as we would have liked,” Manpreet said.
“With an eye on the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, this semi-final encounter against a good Japanese side will give us the chance to peak at the correct time, and book a place in the final,” the 26-year-old said.
There will be no dearth of confidence within the Indian team as they have not lost to the Asian Games 2018 Gold Medallist since the 2013 Men’s Asian Champions Trophy where Yoshihara Heita scored twice for Japan to register a historic 2-1 victory.
In the past 12 meetings between the two teams, India have ended up on the winning side on the last 11 consecutive occasions, while one match ended as a 1-1 draw.
“We know that we go into the match as the favourites but that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t perform on the field. We will be ready to fight for every duel, and every ball, and we will look to start the match well,” the Indian skipper said.
“It is important to produce a good performance and for us to be efficient in all departments. If we manage to do that, we should be able to secure a place in the final,” he added.
The midfielder also believes that the team’s good form in the round-robin stage will help them in settling down and keeping their composure.
“We have had as many as eleven different goal-scorers in the tournament so far which is a very positive sign for us,” the 2018 Arjuna awardee said.
“Our attacking approach and dynamic play during the matches helps us in keeping the balance on the field, and gives every outfield player a chance to get involved in the final third.
“I am expecting a good match against Japan and I am sure the team is ready to produce a performance which shall give us the victory,” he added.