India gears up to add yet another Men’s Junior Hockey World Cup title

Ever since winning the junior World Cup in 2016, Indian team’s performance has improved a lot over the last five years. The structure of the team has also improved

Representative image
Representative image

Rohit Bhandiye

Defending champions and hosts India will be raring to go to add yet another FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup title that begins at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha on November 24.

The stakes are high and Team India will be striving hard to defend their champion’s title. At the last edition held at Lucknow in 2016, India had emerged victorious by defeating Belgium in the finals 2-1. It was India’s second Junior World Cup trophy after 2001.

Ever since winning the junior World Cup in 2016, Indian team’s performance has improved a lot over the last five years. The structure of the team has also improved. Some of the players have shown tremendous improvement.

But things won’t be easy this time around. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last 20 months have been tough for all the teams. It has been a struggle for all the players. The players in the Indian team have remained and trained together during the Covid lockdown with the only aim to win the title in Bhubaneswar or at least have a podium finish.

The unity and bond between the players has improved and this should help them when playing in the global showpiece event. The mantra for Team India will be to take one match at a time. Their first priority will be to top the group and make it to the quarter-finals.

The tournament will be played behind closed doors and in a bio-bubble environment due to Covid-19. In the absence of spectators, Indian team will definitely miss the home advantage. No doubt, there will be disappointment amongst the players and hockey lovers as the tournament will be played without any spectators. The roars and the cheers of the fans will be missed. It will be completely different experience to play in-front of empty stands.

India’s 18-member junior squad will be led by 21-year old Vivek Sagar Prasad, who was a member of the bronze medal winning Olympics team at Tokyo. Defender Sanjay, who was part of the India U-18 team that won silver at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires will be the vice-captain. The team also includes three players - Abhishek Lakra, Sudeep Chirmako and Sunil Jojo - from the host state of Odisha.

Apart from hosts India, six-times champions Germany and last edition’s runners-up Belgium will be among the favourites to win the junior World Cup title this time around.

With Australia, New Zealand and England pulling out of the tournament, owing to Covid-related travel restrictions, their spots have been awarded to USA, Canada and Poland.

The event, slated to end on December 5, will witness 16 teams from across the globe vie for the coveted World Cup trophy. The teams in the fray are Belgium, The Netherlands, Argentina, Germany, Canada, South Africa, Egypt, Pakistan, Korea, Malaysia, Poland, France, Chile, Spain, USA and hosts India.

India are placed in Group B and begin their campaign on November 24 against France, then they take on Canada on November 25 and will play their last game against Poland on August 27 in their four-pool team.

The top two teams from the preliminary round groups will qualify for the knockout quarterfinals, which will be played on December 1.

With the virus still active, it will be a challenging task for the organisers to ensure that the tournament is successfully held amid the Covid-19 pandemic. But, Odisha has a good track record of successfully hosting major tournaments having earlier hosted the senior Hockey World Cup in 2018, FIH World League in 2017 and Champions Trophy in 2014.

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