What went wrong for India at the Junior Hockey World Cup 2021?

India during a penalty corner at the Junior World Cup (Picture Courtesy: Hockey India)
India during a penalty corner at the Junior World Cup (Picture Courtesy: Hockey India)
Sambit Mishra

India’s hopes of a second consecutive podium finish at the recent 2021 Junior Hockey World Cup in Odisha were shattered when they lost to dark horses France for the second time in the tournament. It was a lackluster performance from the hosts, who struggled to score past the French defense in their third-place match.

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France dominated India in every department. They were confident and loud. Their captain Timothee Clement proved to be India’s nightmare, converting three penalty corners and subsequently scoring his fourth hat-trick of the tournament.

Remember the name - 𝗧𝗜𝗠𝗢𝗧𝗛𝗘𝗘 𝗖𝗟𝗘𝗠𝗘𝗡𝗧 !! Man, you are a monster. 7 matches, 14 goals, 4️⃣ hat-tricks & uncountable last man saves during the PC. You are everything that a team needs in its captain. 🙏Needless to say, @FF_Hockey is in safe hands. #JWC2021

Here's a look at what went wrong for India and what needs to be rectified.

Patchy midfield leads to India's downfall

With the likes of Arjuna awardee Vivek Sagar Prasad, India’s midfield was highly rated ahead of the tournament. However, barring Vishnukant Singh, who was awarded Man of the match in the quarterfinal against Belgium, the midfield lacked precision.

Olympic bronze-medalist Vivek Sagar didn’t get to spend much time with the Colts because of his senior team duties, but expectations were high from the Madhya Pradesh lad.

Yashdeep Siwach, son of former India captain Pritam Siwach, was good physically, but needs to improve his skills on the flanks. Vishnukant looked the best among the Indian midfielders.

WHEN THE CAPTAINS MET!Former Captains, @DilipTirkey, and Pritam Rani Siwach with her hockey player husband, Kuldeep Siwach at #KalingaStadium.Pritam's son Yashdeep Siwach is a member of the present team playing in the #JWC2021.#RisingStars #OdishaForHockey

Holding and dribbling the ball too much

In both matches against France, India looked like a 1960s team. Traditional hockey was on display by the hosts at the Astroturf in Bhubaneswar. They held on to the ball for longer than required in the center and unnecessarily dribbled inside the shooting circle instead of looking to earn penalty corners.

Decision-making needs to improve

Hockey is no longer just about speed and stamina. Looking at the German team that beat India in the semis, their man-marking was perhaps the best in the tournament. France’s tiki-taka game style impressed everyone.

France were the team that played with hard passes and quick interchanges with the ball, while India didn’t make the right passes at the right time and failed to create opportunities.

Everyone knew India’s strength lay in the penalty corners with four specialist drag-flickers in the squad, but they earned only one PC in the match against Germany. This showed inexperience in the team, possibly because they didn't play many international matches in the last two years due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Senior India coach Graham Reid also touched on the decision-making part after India’s semifinal loss to Germany.

“Smart players decide at that time and make better decisions. Our decision-making wasn’t good as it should have been. It was visible at all ends of the pitch. Our decision wasn’t up to scratch in midfield either. At the end of the day, that’s what gives you outcomes, the ability to make good decisions inside the circle,” he said.

Tackling in groups

The Indian Colts possessed solid defenders, but failed to make an impact collectively. In matches against Germany and France, the Indian defense appeared clueless. The likes of Siwach, Abhishek Lakra and Sanjay were left stranded by the extraordinary German forwards.

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Germany’s defense saw all 11 players return after every attack, defending in groups, while the Indians attacked with only three or four players in their half, making it easier for the opponents.

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What's next for the Junior India boys?

Pawan's goalkeeping, Sanjay’s prowess in drag-flicks and Uttam’s fast runs on the flanks give Indian hockey fans hope for the future.

However, it remains to be seen how Hockey India will prepare the team for the 2023 Junior World Cup to be held in Malaysia.

Edited by Sanjay Rajan
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