With just three days to go for the start of the much-awaited Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018, the top Asian teams have descended on the beautiful Capital city of Muscat for a battle of supremacy in the continent. Asian Games Gold Medalists Japan, who arrived yesterday along with their nemesis Korea, Malaysia and Pakistan, will be joined by Defending Champions India who arrive today. A free-wheeling conversation with the Japanese Coach Siegfried Aikman, a Dutch national of Indian origin, on Monday revealed his team's strategical approach to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics where they will be gunning for a podium finish.
Aikman, without mincing words said, "We wanted to enter the 2020 Olympic Games not as host nation but as Continental Champions. We had to win big in order to gain that self-confidence that we too can beat big teams and that we are not afraid of teams like Korea, Pakistan, Malaysia or India anymore."
At the forthcoming Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018, Japan will have the platform to reinstate this self-belief and reassert their supremacy in Asia when they take on World No.5 India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Korea, Oman and prove to the world that the Asian Games Gold Medal was not a one-off incident. "Of course we will be playing to win every single match but at the same time we will also be testing quite a few young players who are below the age of 20, in order to select a core group that will give us enough options and also create more competition within the team ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games," stated Aikman, who is a master at accurately studying the opponents' weaknesses and successfully using it to Japan's advantage. It is what they did in the Final of the Asian Games where they were 0-4 at half time against Malaysia but made a sensational comeback to draw 6-6 in regulation time and go into a shootout.
"It was in fact against India that we had planned thoroughly to play against in the Final of Asian Games. After we drew in our final Pool match, we knew we wouldn't face India in the Semi Final but were expecting to meet them in the Final and had strategically prepared for it. We had strategised differently against them in the pool stage and would used a different strategy had we played them in the Final. However, because of their loss against Malaysia, we will never know how we would have done against them in a Final. I think for our team, it was also critical to have won a few matches against Pakistan in the lead up to the Asian Games that helped boost our confidence," he added.
At the tournament in Muscat which begins on 18 October 2018, Japan will begin their campaign against Malaysia on the opening day. According to Aikman, his team will not be looking at results as much as they would like to emphasis on their own game. The Dutchman explained, "For us it is extremely important to focus on our own game and work on certain areas that will put us in good stead and help us build on our game for 2020. While we will play to win, results will not matter as much as playing a disciplined game."
Speaking of who would be the title contenders for this year's edition, Aikman called out India without skipping a beat. "India are undoubtedly the contenders for winning the tournament. They have the skills, tactical awareness and fitness but they are vulnerable under pressure and that's the area which we need to capitalize if we want to success against them," Aikman concluded.
Japan will take on Malaysia in the opening match at the Hero Asian Champions Trophy Muscat 2018 while India play hosts Oman in the second match of the day.