Japan looks to youth power

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(12 Oct, 2016): Experience and youth will be Japan’s forte in the QNET 4th Asian Champions Trophy which begins in the Malaysian coastal city of Kuantan, Pahang from Oct 20-30.

The Japan Hockey Association announced a squad of 18 players for Asia’s premier tournament which includes the participation of India, Pakistan, China, Korea and Malaysia – the top six teams at the 2014 Asian Games.

However, 12 members of the team have featured in the 25th edition of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in April where the Japanese finished at the bottom of the seven-team event after going down 1-4 against the Pakistanis in the final fixture of the round-robin league.

The Sultan Azlan Shah Cup this year was Japan’s last international assignment and they make a return after a six-month hiatus.

With an average age of 23 years of age players, the Japanese are still a potent force with the presence of key players in the form of defender Kenji Kitazato, drag-flick specialist Shota Yamada, forwards Hiroki Sakamoto and Kentaro Fukuda, and midfielder Kazuma Murata– all of whom saw action in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Forward Hiroki has been picked as team captain and the two goalkeepers are Takumi Chida and Masahito Kunitomo.

However, missing from the squad is the 32-year-old Koji Kayukawa, who has 135 international caps, and Yamashita Manabu, with 97 caps. Both were members of the team that competed in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup.

Japan will want to show that they belong to the elite group, playing some brilliant hockey and giving it their all in the QNET Asian Champions Trophy. Ranked World No 16 by the FIH, Japan plays India in the second match on Oct 20.

The Japanese finished fourth in the 2011 inaugural tournament, losing 0-1 to Malaysia. India emerged champions following 4-2 victory over Pakistan in penalty shootout after a scoreless draw in extra time of play.

Introduced in 2011 to create an opportunity for Asian teams to gather more high-level competition experience, the Asian Champions Trophy has taken place three times so far, for the last time in 2013.

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