Indian hockey eves clash against Japan for fifth spot

Antwerp, July 3 (IANS) After pulling off a breathtaking 5-4 win in penalty shoot-out against Italy, India will look to remain in qualification for the 2016 Olympics as they take on Japan in 5th/6th position encounter at the women’s Hockey World League (HWL) Semi-Final here on Saturday.

An exhilarating game of hockey was witnessed here on Thursday when the Indian team met Italy and at the end of regulation time the scores stood tied at 1-1. What transpired post that was a nail biting affair where the Indian eves kept their nerves to come out winners.

They would look to do the same at the Brasschaat Municipal Park against Japan with a few of their forwards in good form.

India custodian Savita Punia said: “I think the defence will be the key tomorrow. We have to ensure we close the gaps, not allow easy access to our D, not give away penalty corners and hold the fort strong. This will help boost the attack to go for the kill. The initial goal will matter the most tomorrow and we are aware of that.

“The target from here is to stay in contention for Rio and a win takes us a step closer towards what we are aiming for. While we beat Japan last time around, we are not taking it as a ticket to a win tomorrow. We are aware that Japan too would be playing for the same cause and hence stakes are high,” she added.

World No.13 India last met world No.10 Japan during the Hawke’s Bay Cup earlier this year where at one point the former was trailing 0-2 but came back strong to win 3-2.

Prior to that, midfielder Ritu Rani-led India defeated Japan 2-1 to claim the bronze medal in the 2014 Asian Games and they need a similar performance.

With stakes high, both teams are aware of the importance of a win on Saturday and will leave no stone unturned to ensure the game goes in their favour.

India chief coach Mathias Ahrens too echoed almost the same sentiments as her goalkeeper and said the team was wary of the threat posed by their Asian rivals.

“All the departments will have to deliver tomorrow. While scoring the goals are important, saving those crucial goals will be the key.

“We had a meeting and we are clear that we have to close the gaps and not allow them easy opportunities. They are a strong team and we have to be alert against them,” Ahrens said in a release.

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