India hockey team to take on Japan today

Bhubaneswar: The Indian hockey team is all geared up to take on Japan in what would be the first of the four-match Test series at the Kalinga Stadium here today at 7 pm, which is preparation for the upcoming World League Semi-Final to be held at Antwerp in June.

Following their third place finish in the recently concluded Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in April, India are looking to maintain their form and will try out new strategies in the bilateral series.

With an augmented 24-member squad, chief coach Paul van Ass will aim to utilise all the players and use new team combinations in preparation for the big tournament next month.

“In present day in international hockey, you can’t take any team lightly. Once the Netherlands team lost a match against Japan, just because they took them lightly and didn’t utilise their full strength,” said van Ass.

“Though they are ranked below us, Japan are a good team and they have been improving in the right direction. They have a very strong forward line-up and speed is their key strength. With new South Korean coach Keonwook Kang, Japan have improved a lot in all areas.”

Knowing that Japan have a strong forward line and their players are skilful to add to their pace, India have started analysing and are working on various strategies to tackle them.

Ranked World No.9, India have more bench strength than their 16th ranked Asian opponents but the hosts are not taking any chances and will try and utilise their full squad.

The last time the two teams met was in the 2013 Asian Champions Trophy in Japan when the hosts defeated India 2-1.

The Indian team management has called back a few young players, such as forward Lalit Upadhyay, defender Yuvraj Walmiki and midfielder Pardeep Mor. On the other hand, Japan have come with their full strength in a 19-member squad.

“Being an Asian team, they are playing European style of hockey, which makes them a tough opponent. We are glad they are here to play with us. We will play competitive hockey. I am hoping for a good start against them,” added van Ass.

After finishing sixth at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, Japan are also taking the series seriously as they are also preparing for their World League Semi-Final to be held in Buenos Aires.

Japan will face the toughest teams of the world there and this series will give them ample opportunities to test their skills. However, they have not played against India too much in the last few years and, hence, don’t know much about the Indian team and their style of play.

“This will be an important Test series for us as we are preparing for the World League Semi-Final; this series will give us good opportunities. We haven’t played against India in the last few years and we don’t know how they will play. We have to read their game as early as possible and draw our strategies according to that,” Kang said.

“We will start with our natural game and play with full force. India is a strong team and they have been playing good hockey in the last few years. It will be a tough contest between us and we are looking forward to it.”

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