A tricky opponent in Asian Games champion Japan is sure to test India but home advantage gives Manpreet Singh and Co the upper-hand in the semifinal of the FIH Series Finals hockey tournament in Bhubaneshwar on Friday.
Even though they registered some big wins in the preliminary stages against lower-ranked opponents, India under new head coach Graham Reid, are yet to showcase their perfect game on the turf. The finalists will qualify for the FIH Olympic Qualifiers to be held later in October-November this year.
India notched up 10-0 wins over Russia and Uzbekistan and scraped past Poland 3-1 in the pool stages.
But their displays have been far from impressive. While the midfield has done well under Manpreet, it is the finishing which is a cause of concern for the Indians.
In all the three matches, India created innumerable scoring chances, but the strike force lacked the finishing touch.
Barring Akashdeep Singh, no other striker has looked threatening in the tournament so far.
While Mandeep Singh and young Gursahibjit Singh played well in patches, Ramandeep Singh, who returned to the side after nearly a one-year injury lay off, looked a pale shadow of his past self.
“I am happy that we created plenty of chances but we need to work on our basic skills like finishing. It is an area where we need improvement,” Reid said.
The Indian defence too has hardly been tested in the tournament with Poland being the only team to cause some trouble.
Both the goalkeepers – PR Sreejesh and Krishan Bahadur Pathak – were mere spectators in the pool matches but the scenario would be different on Friday as Japan are expected to trouble the hosts.
Japan gave India a tough fight even though they lost in the past two encounters – the 2018 Asian Champions Trophy in Doha and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year.
Japan have nothing to lose as they are already assured of an Olympic berth by virtue of being hosts as well as continental champions. They are taking this tournament as a preparation for the Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo.
Siegfried Aikman and his men would be desperate to prove a point that their Asian Games gold was not a fluke.
After a below-par performance in the pool stages, where they finished second behind lower-ranked USA, they thrashed Poland 6-2 in the cross-overs on Wednesday.