Bhubaneswar: Top two ranked sides of the tournament – India and Japan were slated to meet in the final of the in Bhubaneswar. A minor setback against the US resulted in Japan playing a crossover match to make it to the semi-finals. In a way, the stakes are higher for India than their opponents. Japan have already qualified for next year's Olympics, while India missed the chance at the Asian Games and will look to make the cut via Olympic Qualifications. Graham Reid's side needs to enter the final of the FIH World Series in order to play two-legged Olympic Qualification matches.
India did win all their matches in the group stage and qualified directly to the semi-finals. Knockouts can be tricky and especially if the match is against Japan. However, for India coach Reid, the preparations still remain the same, whether it 's a group stage game or a crucial knockout match.
"I think that's the key. This has to be a normal game for us. We have to prepare like we normally would. If you had asked me the same question before (our) first game, I think I will say (would have said) we will be preparing the same way. The idea is that we will be focussing on the first few minutes of the game and move forward from there. We have tactics in place and that's what will happen tomorrow," Reid said in the pre-match press conference at the Kalinga Stadium.
While Reid sounded adamant that despite the pressure of a knockout, India will treat the game like any other match, Japan coach Siegfried Aikman did tell that his team will do minor adjustments, but will mostly focus on their game.
"We are looking at our own performance. India have their own problems, we have our own problems. We have our strategy, of course we will make small adjustments. It's about how we can adapt. It's about our development, our growth," Aikman said.
Talking about pressure, Aikman refused to entertain the fact Japan have less pressure compared to India because they already through to the Olympics. As preparations for next year's Tokyo Games, Aikman wants to beat top-ten teams of the world, and now his team has got a chance.
"Losing doesn't exist in my nature. We came here to win and we want to test ourselves in winning. It will be a big challenge and our aim is to prepare ourselves to win matches like these. If we want to win at the Olympics, we want to beat the top ten teams, and the only top-ten team in Asia is here. We are also here for world-ranking points."
Last time India met Japan, it was at this year's Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. India emerged 2-0 victorious in that game, but it was Japan who put on a decent show, improving from their last few games against India. Will Aikman's team will go one step further and cause an upset this time? Reid is not much bothered about past results.
"A semi-final is always a different game. I am always a believer that yesterday's result not necessarily determine today's result. I don't drag too much into reading past performances. Japan played very well last night and we have them in the semis tomorrow. We will be trying to win the game and play the best we can," Reid said.
"To win a tournament like this, you have to beat everybody. It's the order (meeting Japan in the semi-final) we have to play the game. We will be preparing as we normally would for a semi-final," Reid said when asked about facing Japan in the semis, and not in the final, as it was widely expected before the start of the tournament.
Aikman's Japan are the 18th best team in the world. Reid's India are ranked fifth. There's a gulf in terms of quality and ranking, but the Japan coach is not intimidated at the prospect of facing India in an important match.
"I noticed that India is doing very well, but that's not a guarantee for success. If you look at our matches, we dominated every match but still didn't top the pool. As long as I live, as long as there is one second to play, we have hope.
"For us, possession is the key. Our challenge (earlier) was against lower-ranked teams. India is not that. Till now, we have gone step by step. I hope tomorrow we go a step further," Aikman said.
On Friday, Russia overcame Polish challenge 3-2 to clinch the fifth spot in the tournament. The first semi-final of the tournament will see the US taking on South Africa at 5 pm IST followed by India vs Japan at 7.15 pm.
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Updated Date: Jun 14, 2019 12:17:25 IST