Uttam Singh dwells on the pressure of playing Pakistan after Indian juniors win Junior Hockey Asia Cup

The Indians beat Pakistan in the final to register a memorable win
The Indians beat Pakistan in the final to register a memorable win

Following India's memorable 2-1 win in the final of the 2023 Junior Hockey Asia Cup on June 1, captain Uttam Singh dwelt at length on what transpired behind the scenes of the remarkable triumph.

On a memorable Thursday evening in Oman, coach CR Kumar's young chargers staved off a determined challenge from Pakistan, who under the tutelage of Roelant Oltmans gave the Indians a run for their money in the second half.

With a potent mix of youthful energy combined with a level of maturity well beyond his years, Uttam Singh told Sportskeeda that the Indians had focussed on their shortcomings following a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in the pool stages and worked on stemming the opposition attacks from the right flank.

"Everyone was aware that an India-Pakistan final was on the cards so we worked on a few things based on how we had performed in the pool stage. Pakistan have a strong right flank so we had to plan how to plug the gaps on the right," the jubilant skipper explained.

The striker from Uttar Pradesh, who made his senior debut against Pakistan at the Jakarta Asia Cup last year asserted that the pressure against the subcontinental rivals was far more pronounced now that he was captain.

"India and Pakistan play close matches on account of the history and rivalry between the two countries. I debuted against Pakistan in the Asia Cup but the pressure here (in the Junior Hockey Asia Cup) was different. In the senior team, I was the juniormost player and in this side I happened to be the captain," the 20-year-old stated.
"I was under pressure too as I was leading the team in the Junior Hockey Asia Cup but I motivated the team by telling them to consider the cheers for Pakistan as cheers for our team. It has to be taken positively," he added.

The advice came in handy as a vociferous full house was in attendance for the big final even as CR Kumar - who had worked with Roleant Oltmans' during the Dutchman's India stint - now aimed to outwit the seasoned coach.

"I worked with Roelant, I know his strengths" - coach CR Kumar following his team's Junior Hockey Asia Cup win

Pakistan upped the pressure in the second half
Pakistan upped the pressure in the second half

Chidambaram Rajaratinam Kumar who guided the Indians to gold in the 2001 Junior World Cup is a name to reckon with in the Indian hockey fraternity.

The stalwart from Thanjavur, who also coached the Indian women's side was part of Roelant Oltmans' team when the Dutchman coached the Indian men.

Now picked to guide the junior boys, CR Kumar told Sportskeeda that although the final of the Junior Hockey Asia Cup wasn't a battle of coaches, he was well of Oltmans' strengths and revealed that the wily coach did try to "manipulate" certain things during the pool match.

"This was not about me and Roelant. This was a result delivered by the players. I worked with Roelant when he was in India. I know what are his strengths. Obviously, he tried to manipulate certain things during our pool matches," Kumar said.

The veteran from Tamil Nadu stressed that discipline was the key for the Indians who were put to the test by a strong Pakistan side in the Junior Hockey Asia Cup.

"Some of the areas that we did not perform well at the Pool level we tried to change and put early goals on the board which was achieved. We also came under pressure. The Pakistan players came up very strongly in the third quarter and we played with more discipline. There were no cards and that was our strength," he revealed.

Kumar also revealed that coach Oltmans does believe that the young Pakistan side will go on to excel at the senior level. His own view is that the young Indians will dominate world hockey as well.

"Roelant told me that the Pakistan seniors haven't had many chances as they haven't qualified for many tournaments, but this team will don senior colors in future. These boys (the Indians) will dominate world hockey in future," he stressed with an air of pride.

The Indians scored 50 goals while conceding just 4 over the course of 6 matches at the Junior Hockey Asia Cup.

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Edited by Tejas Rathi
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