The FIH Junior Hockey World Cup 2013 got underway today at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi. But the country will have to wait till evening to see the host nation in action for the first time.
India take on the Netherlands in their opening group fixture later tonight. The Dutch, as always, are one of the favourites at the event, and the Indians start their campaign with probably the biggest match of their group, as they have been placed in a somewhat easier pool.
India though will be keen to make a positive start and perform well, playing in front of their home fans which always brings about that added bit of pressure.
India are placed in Pool C along with the Dutch, Canada and Korea.
Led by young star Manpreeet Singh, the team has received much praise from former veterans and current senior players alike, apart from also garnering rave reviews from their foreign counterparts. Earlier this year, the junior women had scripted a fine run themselves, bagging the bronze at their world cup in Monchengladbach, Germany and many are expecting the junior men to also go far.
They also have three drag-flickers in Gurjinder Singh, vice-captain Amit Rohidas and Sukhmanjit Singh, ensuring that they are well-stocked when it comes to penalty corners.
And the goal will be manned by Harjot Singh and Sushant Tirkey.
India have won the junior World Cup once in 2001 and their next best finish has been a fourth place in 2005 after they lost the bronze medal match to Spain.
Team coach Gregg Clark used the words “A great bunch, super talented and wonderful human beings.”, to describe his set of players.
Clark has admitted that the opener against the Netherlands is very important as it has the potential to decide how the team’s fortunes will swing at the event.
“There are no easy games in the World Cup, but the first game of every tournament is very important. (A win) gives you good momentum, helps you to go forward and gives you confidence,” said Clark.
One thing that Clark can count on is the international exposure that most members of his squad have accumulated while turning out for the senior team.
“The Indian side is well balanced. We have worked hard on a good defensive structure… the team is organised in all facets of defence. India is known for its attacking flair and its counter-attack ability. If we can balance those two facets – of structural defence and the natural ability to attack – it will really stand us in good stead in the tournament,” Clark added.
On being asked if the Indians could go all the way to win the tournament, he expressed a quiet confidence, but reiterated that they will have to play to their ability to ensure that.
“We’ve got a good chance. (But) We don’t want to put any pressure on ourselves; there’s enough of that playing a home tournament. I think the players and the management realize that if we do play according to our ability, we do give ourselves a very good chance,” Clark said.
“Playing at home always puts pressure on the team. It’s a very expectant hockey public. But you can either let that pressure affect you negatively or you can use that positively. We need to rise to the occasion, and I’m really confident this team has the character to do that,” Clark explained.
The Netherlands may not have the same advantage, but they are a team that come well prepared, and they have as their manager, former international Floris Evers.
Apart from managing the team, Evers is also giving the Dutch youngsters the lowdown on what to expect in India – right from the crowd, the conditions, the weather et al – having played in Delhi with the senior team during the 2010 World Cup. He was also a part of the Ranchi Rhinos franchise that won the inaugural Hockey India League.
“It’s going to be a really tough game (against Netherlands). Obviously, we are gonna put a lot of focus on achieving a positive result. But the good thing is that if we don’t get a positive result there, we’ll still have two games to rectify and finish in top two to make the quarter-finals,” added Clark.
For the Netherlands, it has always been a case of near misses in this tournament; having twice finished runners-up — back in 1985 and in the last edition in 2009 when they lost 1-3 to Germany in the final.
But they are looking to set that record straight this time around and their coach Sjoerd Marijne has already issued a public challenge to India, saying that his team will be looking for nothing less than a win.
“Our team is very tough and stable and we are geared up for the challenge. All the teams are strong and anyone can win a match on the given day. But the boys are confident about their first match against India and we aim to start this tour with a win,“ Marijne said.