India aim to avoid complacency against Japan in Asian Champions Trophy semifinal

"Japan may have lost 6-0 to us in the league phase but we can't assume they will play the same way on Tuesday," Manpreet said. Ian MacNicol/Getty images

Competing in their first International tournament since the Tokyo Olympics, India will look to avoid complacency while making further improvement on their group stage thrashing of 2018 Asian Games champions Japan as they aim to qualify for the final of Asian Champions Trophy for third successive time on Tuesday.

Starting favourites

Although they started their post-Olympic hockey calendar with a rusty 2-2 draw against South Korea, the Indian men's hockey team have found their feet with every successive game. Their opening day draw in Dhaka was followed up by a 9-0 walloping of hosts Bangladesh, a 3-1 win over Pakistan and finally a 6-0 victory against Japan. Graham Reid's team dominated Japan in the league game, opening up their opponent's defence with field goals from Dilpreet Singh, Jarmanpreet Singh, Sumit and Shamsher Singh. Harmanpreet Singh was also accurate with his drag flicks, scoring twice in the match. Making the team in the absence of longtime custodian PR Sreejesh, goalkeeper Suraj Karkera managed to pull off some fine saves.

Avoiding complacency

While India start as favourites against Japan in the semi-final, captain Manpreet Singh made it clear on the eve of the game that the side can't afford to take the game lightly. While the Asian Champions Trophy has been a happy hunting ground for the Indian team -- the standard of Asian hockey has dipped in recent years and they have failed to make the final just once in the tournament's history -- Manpreet is aware that this team is dealing with challenges of its own largely due to the lack of competitive games. "Being our first tournament after the Olympics there aren't any easy matches for us here. There wasn't a lot of pressure in the league games because with just five teams competing, we knew that it would be easy to make the semis. However, the energy levels of teams in the semi-finals will be very different. Japan may have lost 6-0 to us in the league phase but we can't assume they will play the same way on Tuesday," Manpreet said.

Stop switching off

Despite beating Japan and Pakistan, India, at times, were guilty of switching off and giving their opponents a chance to get back in the game. "We gave our opponents breathing space. Against Korea we gave our opponents oxygen and they took those opportunities. The team is playing well but in the end, we gave opponents far too many opportunities," Reid said. Indeed in the match against Japan, India had conceded five penalty corners, but Japan failed to convert the chances. That isn't going to happen all the time. We need to put scoreboard pressure and not give them a chance to get back in the game," Reid said. "With each game in this tournament, we need to try and get better and better. This set of players have to be in the game for the full 60 minutes. That's the most important thing they have to learn from this tournament," the coach added.

Giving opportunities to youngsters

India went into the Asian Champions Trophy with a new look squad, retaining just eight of the 18 who had made up the Olympic team. However, the squad was composed not of players from the junior ranks but those in the 21-25 age bracket. Reid said this was a conscious choice since this group, just outside the age group for the junior world cup, were in danger of being overlooked. "We saw this an opportunity to give that middle group a chance which would otherwise get lost. That group of players between the age of 21 and 25 is a really important group," Reid said. With other international matches in short supply, Manpreet added that it was essential that this set of players make a mark going into a hectic 2022 season. "We have to improve. They have got a chance to prove they deserve to be here especially since we have big tournaments next year," he said.