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India brace for Samurai challenge in FIH Series Finals semis

Errol D’Cruz

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New Delhi: India may just find themselves under additional pressure when they take on Japan in the FIH Series Finals semifinal in Bhubaneswar on Friday.

The eight-nation tournament is a step toward Olympic qualification.

India, though well ahead in the World Rankings at 5th as opposed to Japan’s 18th, need to cross the semifinal hurdle to book their spot in the Olympic qualifiers scheduled for October-November.

Japan, as hosts and Asian Games champions, have already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Siegfried Aikman’s team is likely to play without that element of pressure – and fear – when they tread the blue pitch at the Kalinga Stadium.

The hosts, coached by Graham Reid of Australia, though, are expected to pack too many guns for the sprightly Japanese.

In the Asian Games in Jakarta last year, India trounced the eventual gold medalists 8-0 in a pool match.

They then went one better , walloping the Japanese 9-0 in the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat, Oman, shortly later.

Japan, however, went down by just 2-3 in the semifinals suggesting that a change in strategy and outlook, orchestrated by the astute Aikman, worked wonders.

The Japanese want to put their best foot forward at next year’s Olympics.

They last played at the Games way back in Mexico 1968 but made sure they qualified on merit by winning the 2018 Asian Games final in a thriller against Malaysia.

Japan came back from a 2-5 deficit to take the final against Malaysia to the shootout after a 6-6 draw in regulation time.

It was momentous, not merely for winning their first Asian Games gold medal. The keynote for success was determination and motivation to come back against such odds – the biggest being the assurance of already having clinched a spot in the Olympics as hosts.

“We qualified for the Olympics on merit,” boomed the otherwise soft-spoken Aikman at the 2018 Bhubaneswar World Cup he witnessed as an observer.

“We want to play the FIH Series Finals with the same intensity, especially since it means picking up ranking points ,” the Dutchman of Surinamese and Indian origin asserted.

Aikman must surely repose faith in his sprightly unit. They are fit, speedy and motivated. Players like midfielder Kenta Tanaka and namesake Seren are terrors to any defence.

Hirotaka Zendana packs a mighty punch at penalty corners and Kentaro Fakuda,Shota Yamada and Murata Kazuma can stretch even the best of teams.

No wonder Aikman declared, after Japan’s 6-2 win over Poland in the cross-overs on Wednesday, that his team’s aim is to win the tournament in Bhubaneswar.

His words after the semifinal victory revealed a lack of fear in playing India.

“Life itself is a challenge. Playing a good team like India is a big challenge. And we happily accept this challenge,” the genial Aikman said.

The Dutchman’s grim visage gave way to a beaming smile after the rousing win over Poland.

Japan began the tournament slowly, labouring to a 3-1 win over 39th-ranked Mexico before pulling off a 2-0 win over South Africa ranked two notches above at No. 16.

A 2-2 draw against USA meant Japan finished second in the pool on goal difference and would need to win their crossover to make the semifinals and clash with India prematurely.

The 26th ranked Americans beat 16th ranked-South Africa 2-0, a crucial result in the pool which went a long way to fetching them top spot and a direct entry into the semifinals.

For all that, India know they have the firepower to quell Japan’s bid to make the final and play the winners of South Africa vs USA.

But there have chinks in the armoury.

Poland (ranked No. 21) stifled India’s forward line where the effervescent Akashdeep Singh and sharpshooting Mandeep were kept on a leash even though the hosts won 3-1.

The hosts began in whirlwind fashion, swamping Russia 10-0 but lacked the fluency they would have liked while playing the 22nd ranked nation floundering in the heat that often soared into the mid-30s Celsius.

Then, in a 10-0 win against the lowest ranked team in the competition Uzbekistan, the penalty corner battery left much to be desired despite three drag-flickers – Harmanpreet Singh, Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar in the team.

Still, India have converted 38.46 percent (10/26) of their penalty corners. Japan have scored from 25 percent (6/24) of the set-piece.

Japan have averaged 36.75 circle entries – the latest gauge for match domination – against India’s 47.66, mainly boosted by playing 43rd ranked Uzbekistan where they registered 63.

The compelling stat, though, is the 13-1 head-to-head win record since 2013 with a 63-15 goal tally in favour of India.

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Invitee Kavanagh helping improve tackling skills, feels defender Surender

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New Delhi: Over the past week, the Indian men’s hockey team have focused on improving their defending skills. The team is under the eyes of chief coach Graham Reid and analytical coach Chris Ciriello. Two-time World Cup winner Australian Fergus Kavanagh, who is working with the team on an invitation by Hockey India, a media release stated.

The Indian defender feels Kavanagh’s tips in tackling and positioning will play a key role in team’s outing at the Olympic Test Event next month in Japan.

Surender Kumar one of the most reliable defenders in the current Indian team said, “When we played matches in Australia in May this year, we really felt that we fell short in our defence. We made errors that led to conceding PCs and we also gave away goals in pressure situations. When we regrouped in Bhubaneswar for the FIH Men’s Series Finals, our priority was to get our defence right. Though we eventually managed to execute what we had worked on, it’s now important to show the same consistency against higher ranked teams.”

At the Olympic Test event in Japan, India will play against nemesis Malaysia, New Zealand and hosts Japan. The event will start from August 17 and Surender feels the results of this defender’s camp will show during this event.

Coach Fergus Kavanagh tips in tackling and positioning will play a key role in team’s outing at the Olympic Test Event next month in Japan.

“No doubt this Camp has been very beneficial for the team. We have been watching our previous match videos and working on minor details such as the distance that needs to be maintained between forwards and defence line,” Surender added.

“It’s now important that we execute what we have been doing in these practice sessions in match situations. When we train, we do create mock pressure situations and working with Fergus has been fun because he brings that player-enthusiasm to each session and as a player I admired him for his ability of making zero errors in most tense situations. Though I never played against him I have watched him closely during Hockey India League and having him train with us now is fun and I am sure will be result-oriented,” he continued.

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Hockey India names 33 probables for junior women’s national camp

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The players will report to coach Baljeet Singh Saini at the Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru

New Delhi: Hockey India on Friday named 33 core probables for the Indian junior women’s national coaching camp to begin on July 8 at the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Bengaluru campus. The four-week national coaching camp will conclude on August 3, a media release stated.

The goalkeepers who are selected for the camp are Rashanpreet Kaur, Khushboo and F. Ramengmawii, while Priyanka, Simran Singh, Marina Lalramnghaki, Gagandeep Kaur, Ishika Chaudhary, Jotika Kalsi, Sumita, Akshata Dhekale, Usha and Parneet Kaur are selected as the defenders.

Midfielders Baljeet Kaur, Mariana Kujur, Kiran, Prabhleen Kaur, Preeti, Ajmina Kujur, Vaishnavi Phalke, Kavita Bagdi, Baljinder Kaur and Sushma Kumari have been called up.

Forwards Mumtaz Khan, Beauty Dungdung, Gurmail Kaur, Deepika, Lalrindinki, Jiwan Kishori Toppo, Rutuja Pisal, Sangita Kumari, Yogita Bora and Annu have been called up to report the coach Baljeet Singh Saini.

After a great tour of Ireland, where the team won the Cantor Fitzgerald U-21 International 4-nations tournament against the host Ireland, Canada and Scotland, the team went to Belarus and defeated the junior and development teams of the host nation.

Coach Saini is satisfied with the way the team played in Ireland and Belarus. He said, “The team performed exceptionally in our recent tours of Ireland and Belarus. I am very satisfied with the way they played, and this national camp will now give us the opportunity to keep working in the right direction.”

“Our focus in the upcoming camp will be on our basics, fitness, agility and trying our different tactics. It is important that we maintain our rhythm in these four weeks, and keep building towards our ultimate aim which is to lift the junior Women’s Asia Cup next year,” he added.

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Hockey India invites Dennis van de Pol to conduct special goalkeepers camp

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New Delhi: Hockey India named nine players for the seven-day Special Goalkeeping Camp starting on Monday at the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Bengaluru. The camp will be conducted by Dennis van de Pol and overseen by Indian men’s chief coach Graham Reid.

PR Sreejesh, Krishan B Pathak, Suraj Karkera, Jugraj Singh, Paras Malhotra, Jagdeep Dayal, Pawan, Prashant Kumar Chauhan and Sahil Kumar Nayak have been called-up for this Special Goalkeeper’s Camp which will be a regular feature in the national coaching program going forward. “This is the first goalkeeping camp in 2019 and it will provide an opportunity for not only our keepers in the 33 core probables but also the upcoming young keepers as well. This will provide an opportunity to get world class coaching and help provide them with the training tools to keep their development moving in a positive direction. The goalkeepers camp will be an important feature in the National program going forward,” stated Graham Reid, Indian men’s chief coach.

Reid further added that this goalkeeper’s camp will give him an opportunity to take a closer look at the available options for goalkeeping. “This will certainly give me an opportunity to get a closer look at the pool of young goalkeepers we have coming through to the senior ranks in the near future,” Reid added.

Dennis van de Pol, who is with Drijver Goalie Academy in The Netherlands as well as the KNHB (Koninklijke Nederlandse Hockey Bond), trains the national youth and also regularly trains foreign teams on invitation. He was formerly associated with the Canadian National Women’s Team and also had a goalkeeping stint in China.

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