Eyes firmly set on retaining the numero uno status in the continent, India face a tricky campaign-opener against Japan in the men’s Asia Cup hockey tournament on Wednesday, reported PTI.

The Asia Cup will also be Sjoerd Marijne’s first tournament as coach of the Indian hockey men’s team. He replaced Roelant Oltmans who was sacked last month. Marijne has his task cut out for him as he will have to make sure that India begin their campaign with a win.

Last edition’s runner-up India, led by midfielder Manpreet Singh, will be eyeing a perfect start to their campaign in Pool A, which also features arch-rivals Pakistan and host Bangladesh. India will face Bangladesh on October 13 and Pakistan on 15. Pool B, meanwhile, consists defending champions Korea, Malaysia, China and minnows Oman.

“The opening match is always challenging because we need to get over early nervousness and find our rhythm. The team is upbeat and ready for the first challenge,” said skipper Manpreet.

For Manpreet and India, the Asia Cup is a chance to assert their supremacy in the continent. “We are aware that we go into this tournament as the highest-ranked team and we will aim to keep up the No 1 status,” said Manpreet.

The Indians last played Japan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year where they won the encounter 4-3. But the Indians can’t take Japan lightly given their ability to play fast-paced hockey, making them an unpredictable team. The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup was a prime example of this unpredictability as Japan stunned reigning world champions Australia 3-2.

“We have seen how they play and they are definitely one of the fastest improving sides in Asia. We can never take Japan to be an easy team,” the India skipper said.

The Asia Cup is also India’s lone international outing before the FIH Hockey World League Final to be held in Bhubaneswar in December. The tournament will also give new coach Marijne a fair idea about what needs to done in the next 15 months, which will witness some high-profile tournaments like the Hockey World League Final, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the World Cup.

“The Asia Cup 2017 is a fresh start not just for me but also for the team which is mentally prepared to return home with the title,” said Marijne. “The Asia Cup is where I will get to see how the team reacts in match situations and where we are lacking and need immediate improvement,” he added.