He has coached a team that has won silver in a world championship. This time, despite India being placed in a strong group, G.E. Sridharan is hopeful of striking gold in the World Youth volleyball championship which begins at Bassano del Grappa in Italy later this month.

“The odds are against us. We are placed in a rather tough group alongside Brazil, Poland and Russia but we are confident of winning the gold,” says Sridharan, the head coach of the Indian youth team.

“The team looks solid and I don’t understand why we should not finish at the top,” says the Dronacharya awardee. Sridharan, who guided India to the silver in the 2004 World Youth championship in Thailand, is keen to better that performance. “It’s going to be tough at the start but it is good in many ways as we can be bang on target from the word go.”

The team played in Italy and Poland in April to gain some experience. “We played the youth invitation tournament in Italy and won the gold. Nearly 20 countries took part but our boys stayed focused and beat

Germany in straight sets for the top slot.”

Third spot

The team later took part in the four-nation under-21 tournament in Poland and clinched the third spot. “We lost to both Brazil and Poland but it was a great experience as we got to see their style of play,” says the 55-year-old who is also an Arjuna awardee.

Sridharan puts Brazil’s strength on its backline attack. “It is very strong in this area. It also has an equally good speed pass but when it comes to serves it is erratic. We have carefully chalked out its strengths and weaknesses and have planned our strategies accordingly. We are going to surprise them with our block and counter attack at the Worlds.”

But was it not a junior Brazil team? “True but be it seniors, youth or juniors, its system and style remain the same,” said Sridharan.

Combination attack

The team has been working hard on ‘complex 2’ (service, block and counter attack) at the Visakhapatnam’s SAI Training Centre for the last six months, said Sridharan.

“Our boys are good in combination attack. We have captain Ravikumar, John Christopher (Tamil Nadu), Gurjant Singh (Haryana) and Dilip Kohiwal as a strong force. They are quite powerful in ‘complex 1’ (reception, serves and attack) but if we need to make a strong impression then we must work more on the triple blocks.”

With four of its key members, R. Vaishnav (blocker), Navajit Singh (blocker), Ranjith Singh (setter) and Ravikumar, playing the FIVB world juniors in Pune the team is short of combined training.

“They will be joining the team shortly. We plan to have 15 days (30 sessions) of heavy match and individual training before we move to Italy,” says Sridharan.

It could be cold and chilly in Italy. “Our boys are used to the conditions. We will be playing at Jesollo (near Venice) and there is a huge Indian population waiting to help us out and cheer us all the way. Everything, including the food, is planned much in advance. Now it is for the boys to perform. They will,” he said.

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