Asian Champions Trophy: High on confidence, eye on final berth
Defending champions and Olympic bronze-medallist India start as the overwhelming favourites against Asian Games gold winner Japan in the semi-final of the Asian Champions Trophy men’s hockey tournament here on Tuesday.
The Manpreet Singh-led side’s confidence must be sky high as they had thrashed Japan 6-0 in their last round-robin match and come Tuesday, India would definitely fancy another big win en route to the title clash.
India, however, will need to guard against complacency as any slip-up could spoil all their hard work.
India ended the round-robin stage of the five-nation tournament at the top of the standings with 10 points, ahead of South Korea (6), Japan (5), Pakistan (5) and hosts Bangladesh (0).
But the start was far from ideal for India. Playing their first tournament after their laudable Tokyo Olympics campaign, the Indians were held 2-2 by South Korea before they turned things around with a 9-0 trouncing of Bangladesh, followed by 3-1 victory over arch-rivals Pakistan and the thrashing of Japan.
Vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh has been a revelation, not just at the back but from penalty corners as well, converting two against Japan on Sunday.
The Indian midfield is also being held together brilliantly by skipper Manpreet and Hardik Singh. The forwardline of Dilpreet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Akashdeep Singh and Shamsher Singh too have scored some fine field goals.
The Indians completely outplayed Japan in all departments of the game in their league match and they would eye an encore in the semis as well.
Young Suraj Karkera has been brilliant under the bar for India, making some brilliant saves throughout the tournament while the Harmanpreet-led Indian backline too defended stoutly, saving as many as five penalty corners against Japan on Sunday.
However, the Indian defence will need to be a little more cautious on Tuesday and concentrate on not conceding too many penalty corners, which could hurt them as past results hardly matter in knock-out stage matches.