Sultan of Johor Cup:  Indian juniors rise from the ashes but fall at final hurdle to claim silver

The Indians dominated but failed to make it count in the final Image Courtesy: @sojcup
The Indians dominated but failed to make it count in the final Image Courtesy: @sojcup

It isn't often that an Australian team plays for the wooden spoon in a hockey tournament of any variety - but that is precisely what transpired at the ninth edition of the Sultan of Johor Cup with last year's bronze-medallists ending up fifth after beating neighbours New Zealand who they had lost to in their last pool match on Friday.

The Japanese would have fancied their chances of playing the finals after Great Britain lost to hosts Malaysia in a pool match, but it was the host nation which finished on the podium with a bronze medal while the Junior Samurai had to settle for fourth place after losing the classification match by a 2-3 margin.

Remarkable comeback for India after Madrid fiasco

Not many would have given the Indian colts a fighting chance of making it to the final after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Eight-Nations U-21 just four months back - but displaying a rare character that befits a true champion side, Mandeep Mor and co. very nearly emerged victorious in a tournament that counts.

The boys who were without a coach since the Madrid Invitational in June have thus managed a memorable comeback of sorts, but Jude Felix who mentored the side to a bronze medal in 2017 and silver last year never had any doubts about the capability of the boys.

The former India international had told Sportskeeda before the tournament that the boys may spring a surprise at a time when the chips were down - before the final, however, Jude Felix seemed supremely confident that his former wards would lift the title at Johor Bahru.

"These boys have played together for three years now and finished with a bronze medal the first year and a silver in the second and have all the experience needed to win gold this year - by a good margin I predict."

India dominate but fail to make it count

BJ Kariappa's team kept the pressure on their opponents for pretty much the entire match, with a lion's share of the proceedings taking place in the Great Britain half.

After a barrage of attacks from the Indians was thwarted by the Great Britain defence, Gursahibjit Singh scored the opening goal in the 49th minute which was cancelled out a minute later by Stuart Rushmere.

The Indians seemed to have lowered the tempo at the death and paid the price as Stuart Rushmere was on hand once more to score the winner with less than ten seconds left to play.

The Indian strikers charmed hockey fans with their remarkable skills and scored a mindboggling 24 goals in six matches with Shilanand Lakra ending up as the highest scorer of the tournament with 5 goals.

Although the Indian colts are Junior Hockey World Cup defending champions, the present group of players are ones that have risen post-Lucknow 2016 and seem to be slowly but surely emerging as a world-beating unit.

En route to winning silver at Johor Bahru, the Indians also exacted sweet revenge by beating Australia 5-1 after having lost to the Aussies by a 0-4 margin at Madrid - but failed to get the better of Great Britain for the fourth time since October 2018.

Edited by Zaid Khan

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