Source: Google Photos]

CHENNAI: Just before the important match against Pakistan on Wednesday, Indian cricketer Ravichandran Ashwin, who was a special guest, stood at the middle of the field to wait for his close friend PR Sreejesh. The two buddies gave each other a warm hug, and this heartfelt gesture deeply moved a lot of people. This moment revealed just how much respect and admiration Sreejesh has from his fellow athletes, who themselves are held in high esteem.

In India’s semifinal match against Japan on Friday at Mayor Radhakrishnan Hockey Stadium, the experienced Indian goalkeeper, former captain Sreejesh, will be making his 300th appearance in international games. He’s been involved in the sport for almost two decades and has accomplished a great deal.

Sreejesh will cherish this moment nostalgically. Even though he’s originally from Kerala, he got involved with the hockey group in Tamil Nadu and joined the Indian Overseas Bank team to play. Now, as he gets ready to play his 300th match for India, all those special memories will surely return to him.

Former India coach and current USA men’s team coach Harendra Singh wrote on Facebook, “This incredible accomplishment reflects his unwavering commitment, exceptional skills, and unwavering love for the sport.” Harendra, who affectionately calls Sreejesh ‘Jangoo’, added, “Sreejesh has not only guarded India’s goal with unmatched skill but has also motivated numerous young athletes across the country.”

Friday’s goal: make it to the finals, defeat undefeated Japan, skilled at responding to the strategies India has been using in this competition.

In the previous encounter between the two teams in the league stage, the match ended in a 1-1 draw. The coach of the Indian team, Craig Fulton, believes that scoring goals regularly, as opposed to the previous game against Japan, is the key to securing a win.

India has done really well against Japan in sports, winning 27 out of the 34 times they’ve played against each other. However, reigning Asian Games champs Japan remain formidable with speed and endurance.

Harmanpreet Singh has been the leading goal scorer in the tournament with 7 goals. He’s a big threat to Japan. However, Japan’s main focus will be on making their defense stronger and stopping India’s attacks, especially during penalty corners.

India has scored a total of 20 goals, which is the most in the tournament. Out of these, 14 goals came from penalty corners, which is more than any other team.

Because of this strong performance, India won four out of five league games. This put them at the top of the points table with 13 points. Malaysia was right behind them with 12 points. South Korea and Japan had five points each, but South Korea had a better goal difference.

The first semifinal will be between South Korea and Malaysia. After that, there will be a match between China and Pakistan to determine the 5th and 6th positions.

Japan advanced to the semifinals, thanks to a boost from India. When India triumphed over Pakistan with a score of 4-0, Japan was able to move ahead of Pakistan in terms of the number of goals they scored.

But now, both teams have shifted their attention to the important upcoming match.

As Coach Fulton says, “The real tournament starts now.”

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