Junior Hockey World Cup: India on the brink of glory, look to defeat Belgium in the finals
In the final showdown at the Junior Hockey World Cup in Lucknow, the unbeaten Indian colts will lock horns against a spirited Belgium side as they aim to recreate history and claim the trophy that has eluded them for 15 years.
Sunday evening in the lap of winter could prove to be the biggest one in the life of India’s Under-21 recruits as they are tipped as favourites to win the mega event for the second time. India’s only Under-21 mettle came forth in 2001 in Hobart, Australia when they won the gold under the guidance of coach Rajinder Singh.
Prior to that, they had finished as runners-up in 1997 edition and thus tomorrow’s match will see the hosts play their third final in the history of the tournament.
After a below par performance against the Spaniards in the quarter-finals, India played true to their potential in the semi-finals against Australia. They showcased everything from grit to talent, confidence to desire when they defeated the men from Down Under 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out.
Keeper Vikas Dahiya, rose to the occasion and played his best match of the tournament making a number of saves in the regulation time and then denying Matthew Bird and Lachlan Sharp in the shootout.
The forwards amongst the likes of Gurjant Singh and Mandeep Singh were on point, with each one putting the ball in the back of the net on powerful reverse hits. The midfield and the defence were strong for the most part of the match but succumbed to the Australian attack at times.
However, skipper Harjeet Singh and defenders Dipsan Tirkey and Harmanpreet Singh managed to evade danger when it mattered the most.
The only aspect of concern which should worry the home side is the penalty conversion rate of drag-flickers, which needs to improve ahead of the final against Belgium. As for India’s coach Harendra Singh, he is of the opinion that it is now entirely up to the boys to decide the colour of their medal.
Biggest game for the boys
“December 18 match 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 decide which colour medal they want to see hanging around their necks,” Harendra was quoted as saying after the semifinal win over Australia on Friday.
While, senior team coach Roelant Oltmans who is the team manager for the junior side, said that Harjeet Singh and Co. need to execute “perfect hockey” in the summit clash. “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 was quoted as saying to PTI.
The hosts will also bank on the home crowd support at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, who have been turning up in large numbers to cheer the Indian team, especially in the last two matches against Spain and Australia when India was trailing on the scoreboard.
Belgium on the other hand, are first-time finalists at the Junior Hockey World Cup but given their quality and standard, the Indians cannot afford to take them lightly at any cost. In the semi-finals, they stunned six-time winners and defending champions Germany in a penalty shoot-out after restricting the Germans to a goal-less 70 minutes.
The real star akin to the India match was their keeper, Loic van Doren who denied attempts from Philip Schmid and Timm Herzbruch to lead his team into the finals. Referring to his form in shoot-outs, the Belgian was quoted as saying to the Daily Hunt, "I've been training a lot, analysing all the stats and all the movements, and I think all of that training helped us win today. We are really going for gold now. We're in the final it is going to be an amazing game."
More particularly, why the Indians need to be wary of their opponents is the reason that Belgium was the only team to defeat the Indian colts 2-4 in the four-nation tournament in Valencia, leading up to the ongoing competition.
India’s coach Harendra Singh said that the Indian youngsters will have to capitalise on the chances they receive in the encounter against their rivals.
“Belgium are strong there is no doubt it. But at the same time against every opponent you get your opportunities. And also against Belgium we will get our opportunities. Belgium is a tough team and they have shown it by beating top sides like Holland, Germany, Argentina. It’s a very strong team, but we are also a very strong side,” he was quoted as saying.
Belgium: A threat
Meanwhile, his counterpart and Belgian coach Jeroen Baart emphasised the importance of the final against India for his young players. “It’s been a dream for the boys. They have been working towards it for two-and-a-half years. They have sacrificed a lot, drove a lot of miles to get into training and so on,” Baart said.
“We still remember the disappointment of the last junior World Cup when we lost to France in the quarterfinals. We wrote a little bit of history in the sense that we are first time from the country to play in the semi-final of the Junior World Cup. That was something very special. “Now the boys are really eager to get very far on the pitch in this tournament as in life and as a hockey player,” he added.
The match starts at 6 PM IST and will be telecast live on Star Sports 4 and Star Sports HD 4. For online streaming, the viewers can tune into Hotstar or follow Sportskeeda’s live blog.