Winter Olympics: Japan focused ahead of women's hockey clash

File Photo : PyeongChang Winter Olympics
IANS|09-Feb-2018 19:09

Gangneung (South Korea), Feb 9 : Heading into the women's hockey tournament at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Japan is trying to stay focused on itself and not get distracted by its opponents, the team's coach and players said on Friday.

The world's ninth-ranked team, affectionately called "Smile Japan", is in Group B of the women's competition that starts on Saturday, reports Yonhap news agency. 

Japan's opponents include the joint South Korean-North Korean team. Their showdown is set for next Wednesday at the Kwandong Hockey Centre here, host of all ice events during the Olympics.

There has been plenty of hoopla surrounding the joint Korean team, the first of its kind in any sports at an Olympics. And given the sporting rivalry between South Korea and Japan that stretches for decades, the two country's clash is sure to generate almost a circus-like atmosphere.

But defender Shiori Koike said she hasn't been thinking about how the surroundings will be during the Olympics.

"We just have to concentrate on what we've been doing all along," Koike said after practice at Kwandong. 

"I don't think anyone is feeling any extra pressure to be facing the joint Korean team."

The Korean team has 35 players -- 23 from the South and 12 from the North -- but only 22 players can dress for the games. Three must be North Koreans, and head coach Sarah Murray has said she plans to use three or four North Koreans.

Japanese head coach Takeshi Yamanaka said the addition of North Koreans won't really affect the big picture because South Korean mainstays will stay in the lineup.

"I don't think this affects the players that we've been keeping an eye on," Yamanaka added.

South Korea is ranked 22nd, and North Korea is 25th. At the last South Korea-Japan meeting at the 2017 Sapporo Asian Winter Games, Japan came out on top 3-0.

Japan will still be the favourite this time around, but forward Moeko Fujimoto said she won't take anyone lightly.

"We have three games in the group stage, and we don't think any game will be an easy one," she said. 

"With Korea especially, they'll be playing on home ice. We just want to play our best."