Bhubaneswar: With the FIH Hockey World League Semi-Final (Men) 2015 around the corner, India’s preparation for the tournament will start with the first Test of the four-match series against Japan at the Kalinga Stadium here tomorrow.
India would be looking to keep up its momentum after having finished third at the 24th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia last month. With a 24-member squad at his disposal, India’s chief coach Paul van Ass would look to try out new strategies and use new team combinations ahead of the Hockey World League Semi-Final to be held in Antwerp, Belgium from June 20 to July 5. Going by the world rankings, India(9) will definitely start as favourities against 16th ranked Japan.
But the hosts are not willing to take any chances and would look to utilise their full strength against the visitors. The last time these two teams met was in the 2013 AHF Asian Champions Trophy in Japan, where India lost 1-2 against the hosts. India has recalled a few young players, such as forwards Lalit Upadhyay and Yuvraj Walmiki and midfielder Pardeep Mor, in the team. Even though the two teams are miles apart in world rankings, India’s chief coach Van Ass warned his wards against complacency.
In the present day international hockey, you cannot take any team lightly. Once The Netherlands team lost a match against Japan, just because they took them lightly and did not utilise their full strength,” Van Ass said on the eve of the series opener. “Though they are ranked below us, Japan is 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,” the Dutchman added. Japan, on the other hand, had arrived here with a full strength squad of 19 members.
After finishing sixth in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, Japan will look to make the most of the upcoming Test series ahead of their FIH Hockey World League Semi-Final to be held in Buenos Aires, Argentina from June 3-14. Japan has been grouped alongside The Netherlands, Spain and South Korea in the HWL Semi-Final and the Test series against India will give them ample opportunities to get into rhythm. Japan coach Keonwook Kang too is taking the upcoming Test series very seriously.
“This will be an important Test Series for us as we are preparing for the FIH Hockey World League Semi-Final and 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 tomorrow. We have to read their game as early as possible tomorrow and draw our strategies according to that,” he said.