Hockey Junior World Cup: Defending champion India in focus

Several players of the Indian under-21 team that won the title in 2016 in Lucknow were part of the successful Tokyo Olympic side.

Vivek Sagar Prasad will lead the colts in the World Cup.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Riding the wave of enthusiasm following the senior team’s Tokyo Olympics glory, defending champion India looks forward to giving a memorable performance in the men’s hockey Junior World Cup starting at the iconic Kalinga Stadium here on Wednesday.

With the pandemic casting its spell and making it a spectator-free event, the Odisha Government has put in place robust Covid measures, including regular testing and tracking and maintaining a strict bio-bubble for the teams, to deliver a safe JWC.

Without adequate knowledge about the opponents due to the lack of exposure, the teams are keen to make the most of the experience.

Several players of the Indian under-21 team that won the title in 2016 in Lucknow were part of the successful Tokyo Olympic side. The current bunch must be eager to emulate them.

READ| Graham Reid: Practice games against senior team were quite valuable

India, with all bases covered and having a track record of bagging the 2018 Youth Olympics silver and the 2017 Sultan of Johor Cup bronze, will face 2024 Olympics host France in its opening Pool B encounter on Wednesday.

India, which will meet Canada on November 25 and Poland on November 27, has the potential to reach the quarterfinals.

The Indian juniors, who played some practice matches with the seniors, are carrying on the theme of ‘keeping the team together’ – a message passed on from senior team captain Manpreet Singh to his fellow Tokyo bronze medallist midfielder Vivek Sagar Prasad, the leader of the colts. Chief coach Graham Reid’s ‘team first’ mantra is completely in sync.

Notwithstanding the absence of Australia, New Zealand and England, traditional European nations Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Spain, Asian powers Pakistan, Korea and Malaysia, representatives of the southern hemisphere Argentina, South Africa and Chile and aspiring countries like USA and Egypt will provide different hues of hockey to make the 16-nation event an interesting affair.

India-France opener

Without much knowledge about France, India needs to be at its best in its opening Pool B match, said India coach Graham Reid.

Reid expects France, which would host the Paris Olympics in 2024, to play the European style of hockey. “France is a very good team, I imagine. We saw footage of some matches. They are playing like a European team – holding the ball, moving quickly and attacking from the right. They have a couple of good strikers. We have to be at our best,” said Reid.

India captain Vivek said his team would play positively against France. “It is the first match. We want to take three points. It’s a big stage. We have to keep the team together on and off the field. Keeping the field together off the field helps in keeping it together on the field,” he said.

France coach Aymeric Bergamo said, “We know it’s a tough match. India is the (defending) world champion, playing at home. It’s a big nation in field hockey. We have to be ready.”

France, which was a surprise runner-up in the 2013 edition in Delhi, qualified for the JWC on the basis of its sixth place finish in the 2019 Junior EuroHockey championship.

For more updates, follow Sportstar on :