LAHORE/KARACHI: Pakistan manager Hasan Sardar is confident that that the team would be able to defeat Japan in the Asian Games semi-final on Thursday (today).
“The Japanese are a good team and have beaten us in some matches in the recent past, but we were struggling in those days. Now we have a much better side,” he said while talking to ‘The News’ on Wednesday from Jakarta.
“In our most recent encounter, in a practice match here before the Asian Games began, we defeated them,” he added. “Our players are confident and ready to compete against any team. We have a game plan and the boys will implement that.
“The Japanese are fit and play fast. We have closely watched them and know their weaknesses and strengths,” Sardar said. Japan are ranked 16th, while Pakistan are 13th in the world.
“Ranking doesn’t matter much in modern-day hockey,” argued Pakistan’s manager. “A weak team can be threat to a strong team if it has a sound plan and is able to execute it.“South Korea were above Japan in ranking but they were defeated and Japan are in semi-finals,” he added.
Interestingly, in the recent international events, Japan have had a superior record against Pakistan. At the 2017 Asia Cup, it was a 2-2 draw. They twice met at the International Festival of Hockey in Australia in November 2017. Japan defeated Pakistan in the league match as well as in the third position play off. This year, at the Tri Nation Tournament in Oman, they again met twice.
In the league game Pakistan beat Japan 2-1 but in the final Japan were 3-2 winners. However, after the tri-nation tournament in Oman, the famed Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans took over the Pakistan team and it has been a turnaround since then.
At the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Pakistan ended seventh but the Green-Shirts remained undefeated throughout, achieving creditable draws against teams rated much higher, India (No 6) and England (No 7).
Mostly, they came from behind to draw level. After quite some time, the Pakistan team displayed some real game plan. Notably, after six consecutive defeats Pakistan were able to hold India.
At the Champions Trophy’s final edition this summer, Pakistan were given a wild card entry. The other five sides were all ranked among world’s top six. Though Pakistan ended last, they gave some amazing performances.
Pakistan defeated the Olympic Champions Argentina 4-1, went down to the World Champions Australia by only one goal and lost the 5th/6th playoff against World No 3 Belgium in the penalty shootout.
Pakistan have been in terrific form in Indonesia. They won all the pool matches with big margins including a 4-1 win against higher ranked Malaysia. Pakistan have scored 45 goals and conceded just one.
Japan suffered a big 0-8 defeat against India, but won all the other matches. In the last pool game, Japan needed to defeat Korea, who were ranked 14th, two places higher than them. In an exciting encounter Japan managed to win 3-2.
Japan is one of only four teams (Pakistan, India and Malaysia are the others) to have figured in all the 15 competitions of men’s hockey at the Asian Games.
Japan twice reached the victory stand — bronze in 1966 and 1970. On no less than seven occasions, Japan finished fourth. They attained fifth spot twice and ended sixth on four occasions.Pakistan have been the most successful with eight gold, three silver and three bronze medals.
Pakistan and Japan have played each other 15 times at the Asiad. The record is overwhelmingly in favour of Pakistan: 12 wins and three draws. Pakistan’s biggest victory came in the 1982 semi-final in New Delhi where they defeated Japan 12-1.