FIH Series Finals: We have hope of beating India until the last second, says Japan’s coach

Japan coach Siegfried Aikman vowed that his team will try to put its best foot forward against India on Friday when the two sides clash in the FIH Hockey Series Finals semifinal at the Kalinga Stadium.

Japan coach Siegfried Aikman addresses the media on the eve of his side's FIH Hockey Series Finals semifinal clash against India.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

The Indian men’s hockey team missed out on a direct qualification spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when it lost the Asian Games 2018 semifinal to Malaysia. Japan, which already had a guaranteed spot as host, won the title, securing an Olympic spot on merit.

The team’s head coach Siegfried Aikman vowed that his team will try to put its best foot forward against India on Friday in the FIH Hockey Series Finals semifinal at the Kalinga Stadium.

“Belief? That is a religious question!”, Aikman replied when quizzed whether his team had the belief to upset the mighty host. “India has been doing well, but that is not a guarantee for success. We have dominated matches against USA and South Africa but we did not top the pool. As long as I live, as long as there is one second remaining the match, we have hope,” he added.

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Aikman stressed that his players can gain vital experience from the tournament. “In order to play at the Olympics, you have to beat the top ten teams in the world and the best ranked team in Asia is here. We have come here to win the tournament as the winner gets most points for the world rankings and to test ourselves," Aikman said.

Most visiting teams have struggled in Bhubaneswar's sweltering heat, forcing the authorities to shift Friday’s 5/6 place match between Russia and Poland from 8.30 am to 8.00 am (IST). But, for Aikman the heat is not an excuse as the semifinal will begin at 7.00 pm (IST).

“We have played two matches in extreme heat and it had some effect on the players. But the heat is not an excuse as we will play (tomorrow) in the evening,” he said.

India has not lost to Japan in its past ten encounters – recently beating its Asian counterpart 3-2 at the Azlan Shah Cup in March. However, past results will not count for much.

India’s coach Graham Reid said: "Semifinal (of a tournament) is always a different game and past results do not necessarily mean much. I am not looking at what the past performances have been like, we will play the best way we can and try to win tomorrow's game.”

-Confusion among local media with India’s match timings-

The International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) official schedule stated that the first semifinal – Pool A winner vs Winner of Match No 15 (Japan vs Poland) – will be played at 5.00 pm followed by the second semifinal at 7.00 pm. Since India topped Pool A, Hockey India has decided to allot the second slot to India, leading to some confusion among the local media.

“The match is at 7 pm tomorrow. We have also notified all the media organisations through mail on Wednesday,” one of the officials clarified at the pre-match press conference.