What a moment it will be for French hockey if its under-21 boys take back home the Roger Danet Trophy, which was instituted by the French Hockey Federation (FHF) in the name of its former president while hosting the inaugural Junior World Cup 34 years ago!
France may not be a force to reckon with in world hockey, but the FHF’s efforts to shore up the sport have started showing the results.
France, which had never made it to the semifinals of the event, reaped the benefits of its discipline and strong work ethic to reach the title clash for the first time. Now, the Blueberries have five-time champion Germany between themselves and ‘their’ trophy.
Whether rank outsider France earns its first world title or the Germans transform their tears of an early shock into tears of joy, the National Stadium promises a drama-filled Sunday night.
France’s was a journey of surprises, at least for outsiders. It stunned two traditional hockey nations, Spain and Argentina, to reach the quarterfinals, and put up a brave fight against Australia at the pool stage.
By pipping a strong Belgium in a high-scoring last-eight encounter, the French proved that their progress was not a story of fluke.
Holding the nerve in the penalty shootouts against the gritty Malaysians was an evidence of the harder side of their character. France’s coach Gael Foulard admitted that the final would be a “high pressure game,” but banked on the toughness of his boys.
Title holder Germany was proud of itself as it overcame a shock start against Belgium to march on in style. Keeping its cool in the nerve-racking semifinal against the Dutch was the key to the team’s success and it would have to do it once more to record its sixth World Cup triumph in seven final appearances.
“If a team has reached the final, it has to be a good team. We won’t take France lightly,” said German coach Andre Henning.
With some match-winners in its ranks — such as top-scorer Christopher Ruhr, skilful midfielder Mats Grambusch and one-man army in goalkeeper Victor Aly — Germany is, too, formidable as an opponent.
France, with the services of experienced Hugo Genestet, Pieter van Straaten and Jean-Laurent Kieffer, will have to go through a stern test of resistance. Dragging the match of the tournament to shootouts may help France as it has nothing to lose.
With its favourite tag and the burden of expectation, Germany may not find itself in the comfort zone in such a crunch situation.
The battle of classes may make the final an affair to remember.