“Murde ke taboot me itne keel gaad do ki wo fir uth na sake (Put so many nails in a coffin that the dead can't get up again)” has been the favourite phrase for the Indian junior hockey team. With 25,000 people cheering the team on in a stadium that could accommodate just 15000, the boys did just that and were crowned world champions, dominating and dismantling Belgium 2-1 in the final of the Junior World Cup here on Super Sunday.
It was a clinical performance that had both Indian flair upfront and European stubbornness in defence as the host came close to the 'perfect game' the team management had hoped for. Belgium tried to defend like it always does but for once, the Indians, instead of trying to break their structure, simply slid past the defence and created gaps that flummoxed the opposition. This was Indian hockey's first-ever world level title in 15 years, the last being its maiden win in the same competition in 2001 in Hobart. It was also the first time that a host won the Junior World Cup.
An early lead for India was expected to force the Belgians to break up and move upfront and the plan worked. It also helped that a vociferous crowd on its feet made it impossible for the Belgians to even communicate. India began aggressively, attacked from the word go and got the first chance in the second minute itself but Mandeep shot wide. But the intent was clear and a penalty corner a minute later only added to the pressure on Belgium. In terms of possession, circle entries and shots on target, India dominated every department of the game.
A long scoop from Sumit in the Indian half found Gurjant positioned right at the edge of the circle and the latter, in a replay of his goal in the semifinal, turned and reverse hit into the net to put India ahead in the 8th minute. In fact, this Indian team has used aerial scoops throughout the tournament to great effect and it worked again in the final.
With a packed Belgian defence that conceded no space, India often used the diagonal scoop to not just relieve pressure but bypass the defenders and with the forwards trapping the accurate passes cleanly inside the striking circle, Belgium was forced to back-pedal furiously, draining them. The Indians also proved their physical superiority, outrunning for possession every time Belgium managed to take control.
So composed was the Indian defence that the Belgians, when they occasionally managed to find the momentum to attack, were often unable to reach even the penalty spot and got just one penalty corner till the end, even as the Indian defenders made sure to clear the ball out of their own half as soon as possible.
Captain Harjeet Singh kept falling back in defence to assist Dipsan Tirkey and Simranjeet Singh handled the midfield duties well, assisted by Varun Kumar who was pushed ahead on the left and Sumit. Mandeep Singh, Gurjant and Parvinder Singh came close to scoring but were unlucky to hit wide.
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Vikramjit Singh and Armaan Qureshi, both normally strikers, instead played feeders, sending the ball in often. Simranjeet finally doubled the lead in the 22nd minute after being put through by Gurjant, deservedly named Man of the Match. India, in fact, could have won by a bigger margin if it had connected to all the crosses that materialised.
Unlike the previous games, there was no aimless running. Every time India scored, or came close, it held possession, slowed the game a bit, regrouped and then attacked, not as a battering ram but as a knife, cutting through the spaces. At the same time, Belgium found little space to orchestrate its own attacks. The second half was better for Belgium but India's defence held firm, till the last 30 seconds, when it conceded back to back penalty corners and a goal, but it only changed the scoreline, not the result.
Earlier, Germany mixed aggression with discipline to win 3-0 against Australia and finish third.
The results: Final: India 2 (Gurjant Singh, Simranjit Singh) bt Belgium 1(Fabrice van Bockrijck);
3/4 place: Germany 3 (Timm Herzbruch 2, Jan Schiffer) bt Australia;
5/6 place: Argentina 2 (Nicolas Keenan, Tomas Domene) bt Spain 1 (Marc Perrellon);
7/8 place: Netherlands 6 (Thierry Brinkman 2, Bram van Groesen 2, Thijs van Dam, Morris de Vilder) bt England 2 (Tom Sorsby 2).
Player of the Tournament: Enrique Gonzalez de Castejon (ESP)
Goalkeeper of the Tournament: Loic van Doren (BEL)
Up & Coming U-19 Player of the Tournament: Timm Herzbruch (GER)
Fair Play Award: New Zealand
Fans Choice Award: Harmanpreet Singh (IND)
Top Scorer: Edward Horler (ENG) – 8 goals.
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