Japan challenge awaits India in ACT opener

Indian women take on familiar foe Japan on Saturday in their first match of the Asian Champions Trophy.

India enters the Asian Champions Trophy as the defending champion.   -  PTI

A tough challenge awaits defending champion India in the opening match of its Asian Champions Trophy campaign here on Saturday. It takes on World No. 12 Japan, a strong team which has given India a run for its money in the past through its structured defence.

Japan had defeated India in the 2013 Champions Trophy final. In the 2016 edition, Japan had held India to a 2-2 draw in the pool stages and defeated finalist China. This was a more successful tourney for India, however, as it won the title for the first time. India had also lost 2-0 to Japan in last year’s Hockey World League Round 3; it avenged that loss in the Asia Cup where Japan was the defending champion and the host.

‘Tough competition’

India’s captain Sunita Lakra underlined the challenge ahead. She said, “We have always had tough competition against Japan. They are a quality team and breaking their defence early in the match will be crucial for us.”

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India can take heart from its 6-0 win against Malaysia in the warm-up match on Friday. The team, according to Sunita, is high on confidence after doing well against higher-ranked teams at the recent Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.

Not the underdog anymore

She said, “We want to make a good start to the tournament and the team is confident of it. We no longer go into tournaments as the underdogs. We had a good warm-up match against Malaysia. We hope to carry the same consistency into our first game [on Saturday].”

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