Following their demoralizing loss to New Zealand in the crossover match of the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup, the Indian team will have to gather themselves and face Japan in a classification game. Japan, the reigning Asian Games champions, had stunned India in December 2021 by defeating them in the semi-final of the Asian Champions Trophy. So, India can’t afford to be lax against them.
The biggest challenge for the Indians would be to overcome the emotional trauma of crashing out of the Hockey World Cup in front of a home crowd. The shambolic effort against New Zealand might still be playing in the minds of the players. Japan, on the other hand, will be desperate to get as much experience and success in the Hockey World Cup as possible.
Looking ahead at this contest, here are three player battles which might play a key role in determining the outcome.
Kentaro Fukuda vs Jarmanpreet Singh
Kentaro Fukuda is likely to lead the forward line for Japan. India would be hoping that Jarmanpreet Singh, who is also quick to move across the field can keep him within sights and not let him get away.
It’s quite likely that Japan would be looking to hit India on the counter-attack. Since Jarmanpreet usually plays in the flanks when India is attacking, he will have to make sure that a turnover doesn’t let the defense getting opened up.
Seren Tanaka vs Akashdeep Singh
Seren Tanaka is the captain of the Japanese team and is their most experienced player at this Hockey World Cup. He would be pulling the strings for his team in the midfield. How much he succeeds may be directly proportional to his team’s chances.
In the last match, Akashdeep Singh shifted from his role as a forward to one as a midfielder, at least in the first half. He may have to do it again. Akashdeep has been India’s best player after the exit of Hardik Singh due to an injury. The battle between Tanaka and Akashdeep would be very interesting.
Shota Yamada vs Lalit Kumar Upadhyay
The second most experienced player in the Japanese team, Shota Yamada is the stalwart in Japan’s defence. India’s forwards were poor in their last game at the Hockey World Cup, especially Lalit Kumar Upadhyay. After scoring the first goal, he hardly made an impact.
If Akashdeep again drops back into the midfield and Mandeep Singh is restricted due to an injury, Lalit will have to play a leading role. He had that opportunity against New Zealand but couldn’t rise to the occasion. He will have to succeed against the experienced Yamada.