India, which chases the goal of regaining super power status on the hockey pitch, has invested a lot in its under-21 side. It’s now ready to display the first signs of progress in the 10th edition of the Hero Junior World Cup, starting at the National Stadium here on Friday.
Given its talent, long-term approach and systematic coaching, India is rightly rated among the strong sides in this 16-team event.
The team, with several accomplished performers such as captain Manpreet Singh (85 caps), Kothajit Singh (59), Akashdeep Singh (35) and Mandeep Singh (28), is capable of absorbing the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd.
“We are excited for sure. But we should not have any problem in handling the pressure,” said Manpreet. India takes on the Netherlands in its opening match in Pool C.
Coached by South African Gregg Clark, who delivered the title for Ranchi Rhinos in the inaugural Hockey India League (HIL), India hopes to keep its opponent at bay.
Manpreet will lead the charge in the midfield along with the experienced Kothajit. They have built good rapport with defenders Amit Rohidas and Pradeep Mor.
A fitter Gurjinder Singh not only adds strength to the backline but also provides muscle to the goal-scoring department with his accurate drag-flicks.
“If we can organise the defence well and balance the attack with it, that will stand us in good stead,” said Clark.Impressive forward-line
The Indian forward line looks impressive. Ramandeep Singh, Mandeep Singh and Akashdeep Singh will be in focus along with Malak Singh and Talwinder Singh.
Even though Harjot Singh has played a leading role as the first choice goalkeeper, it will be a toss-up between him and Sushant Tirkey.
“Hitting the middle of the kickers is like hitting the middle of the bat. Our ’keepers are hitting the middle of the kickers,” said goalkeeping coach Dave Staniforth. “We have covered our basics well, prepared well,” asserted Clark.
The Netherlands, yet to win the crown, has solid support from manager and twice Olympic silver medallist Floris Evers. “My role is to see the bus is on time,” joked Evers, who has the experience of playing in India.
“The names may not be spectacular, but our team is,” he added.