“With the trophy kept on the table, there was a discussion as to who will win it. After the Argentine captain lifted it, I told Gagan, ‘Do not touch it, you must take it home’,” Rajinder Singh remembers having instructed forward Gagan Ajit Singh at a press conference featuring the coaches and captains of the finalists, India and Argentina, of the 2001 junior World Cup in Hobart (Australia).
Gagan obeyed and India thrashed a formidable Argentine team 6-1 in the final for its first ever junior world title.
Call it superstition or the desire to be different; the Indian team coached by Rajinder Singh had the talent and the killer instinct to make it happen. Meticulous planning, good preparation and adequate exposure led the side to corner glory Down Under.
“We went step-by-step. There were long camps and a number of tournaments which provided exposure to the boys. The players and coaches worked together. The selection, well supported by the federation, was done on merit. We tested each player and picked the match winners among several talented youngsters,” said Rajinder Singh.
“If it was the forwardline, we had Gagan, Deepak (Thakur), Prabhjot (Singh). In midfield, we had Arjun (Halappa) and Vikram (Pillay). For short-corner conversion and defence, we had Jugraj (Singh). Likewise, we had the best players in every department.”
Gagan went on the flashback mode too. “We had been playing together for a long time, so we had established good combination. We had won the junior Asia Cup, some of us had played in the senior team and finally we had a long camp in Sydney.”
The dashing forward of yesteryear said the time to build a team was the most important factor. “This is not an individual game, so understanding among various players is crucial. Thankfully, we had spent some time to achieve that. As a result, we beat teams like the Netherlands and Germany and lost narrowly to Australia,” said Gagan.
Gagan said on its home turf the current Indian team should rise to the occasion in the junior World Cup, starting here on Friday.
“I have not seen the team. But I wish them luck,” said Rajinder Singh.