By Ranil Prematilake in Hong Kong
Scorching heat and an artificial turf will greet Sri Lanka here at the Hong Kong Football Club in the first leg of the 2018 edition of the Asia Sevens Series tomorrow. The tuskers are first up against China at 11.28am (Sri Lanka Time) and then face the mighty Japanese at 2.45pm (Sri Lanka Time). The last round robin game against Chinese Taipei is scheduled for Saturday (15) at 9.20am (Sri Lanka Time).
In the round robin stage Sri Lanka capitulated to a far superior Chinese side last year where physicality tore open Sri Lanka’s defence. This defeat resulted in a relegation to the Plate segment. Nevertheless, overcoming China today looks the more realistic possibility for Sri Lanka to reach the semi-finals of the Cup Championship. Japan no doubt would have done their homework following the scare at the Asian Games a couple of weeks ago. With the overall outcome of the series paving the way for two teams to feature in World Series Qualifiers, it is unlikely that the Asian giants would field a depleted outfit. However, one cannot ignore the sentiments expressed by head coach Peter Woods, who has gone on record on the importance of working forward from the Japan game.
In most instances than not, Sri Lanka have used skipper Srinath Sooriyabandara as the sweeper in defence and is expected to play the same role this weekend as well. In the absence of Dhanushka Ranjan, the precarious responsibility falls on Kavindu Perera mid-field. In this format of the game half an inch of a gap mid-field rest assures a scoring opportunity. Whilst the spectators are spell-bound by the mesmerising runs, it is the thankless task of defence in open play that differentiates top teams from the others. New-boy Dinuk Amarasinghe fits into the squad as a forward along with Danush Dayan and Gayan Weeraratne, who are tipped to start.
The probable starting halves combination will be skipper Sooriyabandara and Sudam Sooriyarachchi, whose roles shuffle when required. Speedster Naveen Henakankanamage would be positioning himself deep to capitalise on a hint of open space.