Defending champions India will face their first real test when they take on an unpredictable Japan in a pool A match at the 18th Asian Games, here on Friday.
It has been been a cakewalk for India in the opening two matches of Pool A here as they demolished hosts Indonesia 17-0 before recording their biggest win in international hockey when they annihilated Hong Kong China 26-0.
The win against Hong Kong China enabled India to better its 86-year-old record when it had defeated USA with a 24-1 margin in Olympics. The record for biggest win in international hockey remains with New Zealand, who beat Samoa 36-1 in 1994.
Ranked fifth in the world, India would again start as overwhelming favourites against world no. 16 Japan tomorrow, but it would be Harendra Singh and his men’s first real test in the Games as Japan are no pushovers and they have the ability to surprise higher-ranked opponents on their day. India are currently leading Pool A with two wins out of as many games. Korea and Japan too have registered two wins each but the Indians are ahead of the pack by virtue of better goal difference.
While Japan crushed Sri Lanka 11-0 in their tournament opener, they had to fight hard to get the better of lowly Indonesia 3-1 in their next game.
Going by form and ranking, the Indians are expected to win hands down against the Japanese as the P R Sreejesh-led India side is way above the rest in terms of quality in the pool.
While the Indian thinktank took the first two games to experiment with their squad, coach Harendra Singh has already made it clear that their real campaign in the Asian Games starts from the match against Japan.
“For me, these two matches were practice matches. Our Asian Games are starting day after tomorrow against Japan,” India coach Harendra had said after the win over Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Most of the Indian players found their name in the scoresheet in the first two games, but it remains to be seen how the Indian attack deal against the gritty Japanese defence in the next game.
But what could be a worrying factor for Harendra is that the Indian defence was hardly tested in the first two games and it remains to be seen how Sreejesh and Co. deal with the pressure from the Japanese forwards in the next match.
But all said and done, being the top-ranked side in the competition the Indians are expected to win comfortably against Japan and only a disastrous outing can change the script. After Japan, a more stern test awaits India in the form of Korea on August 26 followed by their last pool game against lowly Sri Lanka.