The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Beatable’ Indians take on Japan today

Busan: The prospect of a hockey clash with Japan doesn’t normally send shivers down Indians’ spine. They have, after all, won all their 11 Asian Games meetings.

On the eve of their latest duel, though, there are two factors that the Indians should be wary of.

Firstly, their lacklustre showing against lightweights Hong Kong in their opening pool A match two days ago.

Secondly and more importantly, Rajinder Singh’s team needs to bear in mind the 2-2 result Japan managed at the Kuala Lumpur World Cup earlier this year. The Indians, in fact, had to overturn a 0-2 deficit to earn a draw.

Japan may not be a force like South Korea yet, but they are surely catching up with the continental powerhouses. The Japanese lost 0-4 to South Korea in their opener but are confident of upsetting the Indian applecart on Wednesday.

“It’s true we haven’t beaten them yet but we’ll definitely break the jinx tomorrow,” said coach Nagaki. “We saw how India played against Hong Kong and think they are beatable.”

His opposite number joined in the war of words, refusing to read too much into the mediocre hockey the team played against Hong Kong.

“Don’t judge us by that performance,” Rajinder said this afternoon. “That was an experimental match, we will definitely perform better than that.”

He didn’t spell out his strategy but there should be no prizes for guessing that Rajinder will have the likes of Dhanraj Pillay and Jugraj Singh on field from the starting hooter.

“Our game will basically be like what we played in the second half the other day with slight modifications. One thing we certainly need to do is tighten our defence,” Rajinder remarked.

The Japanese are undoubtedly a tough lot, the coach said. “They always fight till the end, there’s no question of underestimating them. But if we reproduce our Champions Trophy form, we should get through.”

There are no injury problems in the Indian camp. Prabhjot Singh was hit on the ankle in Monday’s match, but he is in fine fettle and ready for Japan.

It’s a match India must win to keep on the golden course. South Korea are their next adversaries, and there is no guarantee they’ll come through that one.

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