Young hockey striker Affan Yousuf sits in the Mumbai Hockey Association Stadium stands staring into the green astro-turf as he gets set for the Central Railway trials. His thoughts however, are with the junior national team currently participating in the FIH Junior World Cup in New Delhi. Affan, who was the team’s vice-captain till about a month ago, deserved to be in the floundering team.
“After our defeat to the Netherlands (2-3) and the struggling (3-2) win over Canada, we have to beat South Korea today to qualify for the quarter-finals. A defeat or even a draw will see us finish outside the top three and this will be very disappointing,” Affan, who is inexplicably a part of the stand-byes of the junior Indian team, told MiD DAY yesterday.
With 15 goals in his team’s Senior National hockey tournament-winning campaign at Balewadi in June and the Player of the Tournament title under his belt, 19-year-old Affan arrived on the national hockey scene with a bang. He was rightly rewarded with a place in a playing XI of the India junior team that went on to win the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia (September).
He was then promoted to vice-captain of the senior India team that went on to finish fifth at the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan (November). The team comprised mostly junior players as Hockey India felt it would be good practice for the ongoing World Cup. Thereafter, though Affan was a part of the junior national camp, he did not make it to the final 18-member squad.
Many hockey experts reacted with shock at his omission, but the player himself preferred to look at the positives. “I was stunned when informed that I was not part of the Indian team for the Junior World Cup. I thought ‘what else should a player do to make it to the national team?’
But then, I realised that I have age on my side and if the selectors have not picked me here, it’s my job to work harder and perform at the domestic level, so that I can fit into their scheme of things in the near future. I’m joining CR now and I hope to perform well here and wear the India jersey soon,” said Affan, whose blue CR jersey ironically resembles the India blue.
Meanwhile, Affan is hopeful that his junior India teammates beat Korea today and ensure a spot in the knockouts. The last time the two teams met was in the Sultan of Johor Cup, where India emerged 6-1 winners with Affan contributing to the goal tally. “We have some very good players, but we’ve been lacking in the finishing aspect.
The defence is a little circumspect but the midfield is sturdy and the forwards are making good in-roads. I’m sure we will beat Korea tomorrow and progress in the tournament. It will be a comfortable scoreline too,” added Affan with a smile as he stepped onto the MHA turf to try out for CR. Needless to say, he impressed the officials, who have offered him the post of Junior Ticket Collector. With the CR blue jersey in the bag, the India blue is now eagerly awaited.