Oltmans: India will bring its 'best game' to the final

"I am really pleased with the way we executed our plans in the shoot-out today," said Oltmans after India defeated Australia in the semifinals.

Roelant Oltmans and coach Harendra Singh were mighty pleased with the Indians' performance in the semifinals.   -  K. Murali Kumar

It was an emotional moment for Harendra Singh when Manpreet sounded the board during the shoot-out to put India into the final of the Hockey Junior World Cup here on Friday. Not only had his team ensured a medal for itself for the first time since 2001, it had also happened in a city that the India chief coach considers his lucky hunting ground.

Harendra was in-charge when Australia won in the semifinals in 2005 and it was sweet revenge for the man who has always worn his heart on his sleeves as far as Indian hockey is concerned. India had lost the bronze back then to Spain and the Europeans were ticked off Harendra's list in the quarterfinals before Australia joined the ranks.

After reaching the final, however, Harendra was magnanimous in victory. “Congratulations to Australia, it showed a great fight. But I must really congratulate my players for making a terrific comeback in the match. All the players showed their eagerness to win the match. This team has taken one game at a time without looking at the tournament and I owe this victory to my players,” a satisfied Harendra said.

However, he reminded everyone that there was one more game to go and that would decide the real character of the team. “December 18 is the biggest game for these boys. I would fold my hands and request them to show their character on that day. They need to and only then can decide the colour of the medal they want hanging around their necks,” he added.

The Major Dhyan Chand Stadium here was packed with more than 10,000 people cheering India on and perhaps that made all the difference at crunch moments. “I have never returned empty-handed from this city. The day Lucknow was announced as host for the World Cup, I told the boys that you will win a medal but you have to decide its colour. This city has lived up to its name for me, it is always lucky,” Harendra quipped.

Manager Roelant Oltmans, less eloquent but equally effusive, sought more from the team. “Our strength is pressure and speed. Our first goal was a result of speed and the second goal was because of pressure. I am really pleased with the way we executed our plans in the shoot-out today. The boys did fantastic,” he said.

Before the game, Belgium coach Jeroen Baart had hoped for a final against India. “I like both Asutralia and India, both are very good teams but I would like to play India in the final if only for the amazing atmosphere here. The crowds are amazing and it would be fantastic to play a final in such a setting, It would be a clash of contrasting teams, styles and coaches, it will be very exciting,” Baart had hoped.

His hopes may have come true but India would be hoping to now go all the way. “This team has prepared at a completely different level from any Indian junior team before, they are something else,” Harendra said. “Now it’s time for the perfect game and that we are going to show on Sunday. Our players will bring their best hockey in the most important match of the competition,” Oltmans declared.

The supporters braving chilly winds here would be hoping for the same.