While the party continues in Bhubaneswar, the host will be far away from it, forced to go through the embarrassment of a classification battle in the World Cup. A deflated India will take on Japan at the Birsa Munda International Stadium on Thursday for a chance to play in the 9/10 place classification match.
Since the shock exit in the crossover stage to New Zealand on Sunday in Bhubaneswar, where it let a two-goal lead slip twice to lose on penalty shootouts, the Indian team has sought to stay away from the spotlight. No pre-match press conference was scheduled and head coach Graham Reid refused to entertain the media post the team’s closed-door training late on Wednesday.
With the pressure off the back, Reid will hope his team plays freely and rectifies the mistakes from the matches against Wales and New Zealand. While it improved on its decision-making in front of goal in the loss to the Black Sticks, concerns will remain over its penalty corners conversion rate – 5 goals from 26 attempts -- and getting turned over in possession in its own half. Of the five penalty corner goals, two were from rebounds and one without a goalkeeper as skipper Harmanpreet Singh’s drag-flicks have underwhelmed.
With an expectant home crowd, India will seek to give them a reason to cheer against the tournament’s lowest-scorer (2 goals) Japan. Japan will seek inspiration from its wins over India in the Asian Champions Trophy (2021) and Asia Cup (2022), although both squads are sporting a different look from then.
Japan head coach Akira Takahashi, who coached the team in those wins, admitted he wasn’t expecting to face India. While he aims for a victory, Takahashi hopes to use the stage to prepare for the upcoming Asian Games and the Paris Olympics next year. ‘Not surprised [playing against India]. I didn’t want us to play India. It will be a good experience for our young players to be playing in front of many people,” he said.
Earlier in the day, South Africa will take on Malaysia, followed by Wales against France, and a South American duel between Chile and Argentina in the other classification playoffs.