Asian Games: India ready for defending champions Japan in finals
The Indian men’s hockey team is poised for an exciting showdown against defending champions Japan in the final of the 19th Asian Games.
The stage is set for an exhilarating final showdown at the 19th Asian Games as the Indian men’s hockey team prepares to face off against the defending champions, Japan. Both teams are highly motivated, with the coveted gold medal and a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics hanging in the balance.
India’s last gold medal in hockey at the Asian Games dates back to 2014 in Incheon, South Korea. Over the history of field hockey at the Asian Games, India has clinched the gold medal three times, triumphing in 1966, 1998, and 2014. On the other hand, Japan’s victory in Jakarta in 2018 remains their sole title win in the competition.
Skipper Harmanpreet Singh talks about the final
Indian captain Harmanpreet Singh shared his thoughts on the upcoming final, saying, “There are always nerves at play when you enter a big match. We have been preparing for this tournament for a long time, and this is the moment that we have all been waiting for. Winning the gold medal and securing a spot for the Paris Olympics has always been our target. As a team, we have to ensure we do not allow the pressure of the moment to dictate our nerves, and that we continue to play freely and enjoy the game. If we are able to do that, I am confident we will be able to get the win.”
India has won every match in the Asian Games
India has maintained a flawless record in the competition, securing victories in all their games. They had previously defeated Japan 4-2 during the pool stage, highlighting their confidence heading into the final. Their journey included impressive wins against Uzbekistan (16-0), Singapore (16-1), Pakistan (10-2), and Bangladesh (12-0). In a thrilling semifinal, they overcame Korea 5-3 to secure their spot in the final.
Harmanpreet added, “We have already picked a win over Japan which gives our team the confidence when entering the competition. But we, as a team, never take any opponents lightly. Japan will be equally motivated to avenge the loss and has a really strong team that can shift the momentum of the game at any time. We have to remain strong in our defence and not allow any leaks in the defensive third.”
Japan’s incredible record; the only defeat came against India
Japan also boasts a commendable tournament record, with their only loss being against India (2-4). They secured victories against Bangladesh (7-2), Uzbekistan (10-1), Singapore (16-0), and Pakistan (3-2) on their path to the final. Notably, Japan defeated the hosts, China, 3-2 in the semifinals to book their place in the final.
India and Japan have crossed paths 27 times since 2013, with India emerging victorious 22 times, Japan winning three matches, and two games ending in draws. During their recent encounter, India had a comfortable 4-0 lead heading into the final quarter but conceded two goals in the last three minutes.
Indian coach Craig Fulton shares his thoughts
Heading into the all-important final, Chief Coach Craig Fulton emphasized the need to avoid conceding easy chances. “We have performed well in the tournament, conceding only eight goals and scoring 63 goals. However, all it takes is one goal to lose the big one, so we have to be cautious. We should not allow the opposition to get away with easy chances and keep our defensive forces strong throughout the game.”
One of the standout features of the Indian team in this competition has been the contribution of 15 different goal scorers. Mandeep Singh (12) and Harmanpreet (11) lead the goal-scoring charts for India in Hangzhou.
Harmanpreet concluded, “It is always good to see when the entire team is contributing up front and getting shots on target. It showcases that everyone is equally motivated, and the players are willing to switch positions whenever possible. We hope we continue in the same vein of form in the final against Japan and achieve the victory we have been working towards over the past few months.”
The anticipation is building for a thrilling showdown between two formidable teams as they vie for supremacy and the ultimate prize in Asian hockey.