The Indian men's hockey team will take on Japan as they open their campaign in the Asia Cup 2017 here at the Maulana Bhashani National Stadium in Dhaka on 11 October.
Though India are clear favourites for the title and interestingly also have the backing of the local crowd who welcomed the team with loud cheers during their practice match on Monday against Oman, they need to bring their top game to every match to ensure they top Pool A which will also see Bangladesh and Pakistan in the fray.
"The opening match of the tournament is always challenging because we need to get over the early nervousness and find our rhythm. We have had two good practice sessions on the main pitch and even played a practice match against Oman. The team is upbeat and ready for the first challenge," stated skipper Manpreet Singh on the eve of their first match.
India previously played Japan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year where they beat them 4-3. It's Japan's ability to play fast-paced hockey with good attack that makes them an unpredictable team. At the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup they set up a shocking 3-2 win over World No.2 Australia.
"We have seen how they play and they are definitely one of the fastest improving sides in Asia. We can never take Japan to be an easy team," expressed Manpreet.
India's defence line-up saw a minor change with the experienced Kothajit Singh missing out due to an injury. "But we are now joined by Amit Rohidas who has just returned from a good outing at the Australian Hockey League and he did well during India's tour of Belgium and Holland so we don't see Kothajit's absence as a set-back," explained Manpreet.
On the other hand, Japanese National Coach Siegfried Aikman minced no words when he said that every team stands a chance to make the final in this tournament. "It's a major tournament which gives us the opportunity to play at the highest level. The World Cup qualifier makes it even more challenging for us but reality learns that we need to know our place in the ranking. We stand for a huge challenge to compete with outstanding teams in our group. However, this is sports and in sports its always possible to flip the script. So, let's wait and see," he stated.
Speaking about India in the tournament, Aikman said, "I think that India has the best chances as the highest ranked team in this tournament. But behind India almost all countries can surprise. As I said before we don't come only to participate we came to achieve our goals."