While the senior Indian hockey team may not have made big news in the year gone by, the junior side has been commendable. They won the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia besides finishing an impressive fifth in the Asian Champions Trophy, where 13 junior players were drafted into the senior squad.
The youngsters have been groomed for over eight months under coach Gregg Clarke keeping in mind the all-important FIH Junior World Cup that begins in New Delhi today, and nothing less than a medal is expected from skipper Manpreet Singh & Co.
In an interview to MiD DAY, the captain too exuded confidence in his boys finishing in the top three at the prestigious quadrennial competition.
On the pressure of playing in front of home fans…
I am a bit nervous as this is a big tournament, but once we’re on the field, all the nerves
disappear. There’s no pressure. Indian hockey has always thrived on crowd support, so playing in front of a full house will only motivate us to do well.
On today’s match against Netherlands…
There are 15 other teams in the fray and each one is tough. There can be no easy games in a World Cup. Netherlands are a quick, sharp team but we have the confidence to beat them. More importantly, this match will set the tempo for us in the tournament. We also have Korea in our pool (besides Canada) and only the top two teams from each pool will qualify for the quarter-finals, so every game will be a challenge.
On the Indian team’s strengths…
Our strength definitely is our forwardline. Players like Ramandeep (Singh), Mandeep (Singh), Talwinder (Singh) and Akashdeep (Singh) have been combining well upfront and scoring consistently. On their day, they can be a threat to even some of the world’s best defences.
On top teams like Australia, Germany, etc…
Australia and Germany are big teams but there are players from lesser known teams, who can spring a surprise. For this, we have done some research on our opponents, thanks to our video analyst Dhananjay (Mahadik). He’s a former India player and understands the finer nuances of the game. European teams rely a lot on video analytics. We have taken to it big time too.
On India’s defence…
We have two of the best goalkeepers in junior hockey. Harjot (Singh) did a fabulous job at the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia this year, while Sushant (Tirkey) won the Man of the Tournament at the same competition in the previous year.
On India’s target…
We are aiming for the podium... a top-three finish. I cannot promise anything, but if we finish outside the medals, it will surely be disappointing.
Photos: 'Godmen' who courted controversy
Photos: Kajol with mother, sister Tanishaa at Dadar Durga Puja pandal
Photos: Yuvraj Singh and wife Hazel Keech teach marriage lessons
Kareena Kapoor Khan snapped with baby Taimur at mom Babita's house
Photos: Amruta Fadnavis at a fashion and lifestyle exhibition