The Junior Hockey World Cup kicks off on Wednesday at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar and host nation India will try to defend the crown they won in Lucknow five years ago.
Although the team’s preparations for the event have been hampered by the pandemic, the players are full of confidence after the senior team’s bronze performance at the Tokyo Olympics. In addition, with top teams like New Zealand, England and Australia withdrawing from the tournament due to the Covid situation, the home team’s job will be done as they begin their journey against France today.
The team is led by Vivek Sagar Prasad, who hopes to make good use of the experience gained as a member of the Indian Olympic contingent and help the youth players learn from it.
During a virtual press conference on Tuesday, the 21-year-old said: “I have learned from the big stage how to keep the team together and I plan to implement this here as well. It is always the team first. It is also important to stay together off the pitch and that will help us to perform better on the pitch as well.”
Head coach Graham Reid will also be there to guide the team and he will try to add another feather to his cap after helping India win an Olympic medal after a 41-year hiatus.
While the competition will be tough, the Australian sounded quite pleased with the way the team played in the exhibition games against the Netherlands, Germany and the USA in recent days. The juniors also played with the seniors and that was very helpful.
But the coach doesn’t want to take their first opponents lightly. After all, the French junior team had come second at the 2013 World Cup in New Delhi, having lost to Germany in the top match. “They will play like any European team. They will be good at holding the ball. They will move the ball quickly and attack down the right wing. They also have two good strikers who will be a good challenge for us,” said Reid. during the virtual press conference.
Despite all this, it shouldn’t be too much of a task for the Indian team, which is placed in Group A alongside France, along with Canada and Poland.
There will be four other games on the opening day, with the opening game between Belgium and South Africa in Pool A. Belgium is the current winner of the World Cup and Olympic champions and they will try to add another trophy to their closet.
Germany, who will face Pakistan on Wednesday, have won the event for a record six times and are the other favorite apart from the Netherlands and Argentina. Pakistan, entering the event after missing out on five years ago, will be the dark horses as always.
However, unlike the many international events that have taken place in Bhubaneswar in the recent past, the tournament will continue in a fanless bio-bubble due to the Covid protocols in place.
It’s sad that the players will miss the atmosphere of a packed Kalinga stadium, but hopefully that won’t stop them from giving their best on the pitch for 60 minutes.
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