After a near-two-year pandemic-forced hiatus, the world of hockey returns to a well-recognized taking part in floor: Bhubaneswar. This time, nevertheless, with an unmistakable distinction.
The cavernous Kalinga Stadium, usually buzzing on match eve, is stripped off its standard fanfare. There’s no queue outdoors the stadium for tickets, no distributors promoting flags, and no face-painters establishing makeshift retailers. There’s only a smattering of guards making certain solely these entitled enter this sprawling facility.
Blame the pandemic for the Junior World Cup turning right into a watered-down, low-key affair. The 16-nation event will start on Wednesday behind closed doorways and in a decent bio-secure setting. All this has taken some sheen away however hasn’t made the World Cup any much less related.
Day 1⃣ 👉 #JWC2021 🏆
It’s going to be a day filled with motion from the FIH Odisha Hockey Males’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021 🏆
— Hockey India (@TheHockeyIndia) November 23, 2021
Shane McLeod, world hockey’s most profitable coach during the last 5 years, places it in perspective. “It’s a extremely good approach to know what nations are going to do properly within the subsequent eight years,” the New Zealander, who was the coach of the Belgian crew that received the Rio Olympics silver, 2018 World Cup and Tokyo gold, instructed The Indian Categorical. “It’s no coincidence that the groups that performed within the closing of the final Junior World Cup completed one and three within the Olympic Video games.”
McLeod was referring to India and Belgium, who had been the champions and runners-up respectively on the 2016 Junior World Cup. Seven Indian and 5 Belgian gamers, together with reserves, from that closing performed within the Tokyo Olympics.
In that context, the Junior World Cup assumes plenty of significance – the subsequent two weeks will present some perception into whether or not the availability chain of gamers will proceed to provide expertise as India look to proceed their revival and hope to construct on the Tokyo bronze.
Nevertheless it received’t be so simple.
The defending champions and hosts start their marketing campaign towards France, a crew that has been punching above its weight in the previous few years. That, although, isn’t the one motive why the match might be a possible banana pores and skin.
Like many different groups, India enter the event blindfolded.
First match after 776 days
Wednesday’s match towards France might be India under-21’s first aggressive fixture after 776 days. In the previous few days, they’ve performed the Netherlands, USA and Germany to heat up for the Junior World Cup. These had been, nevertheless, nowhere near replicating real-match situations. The pandemic ravaged the hockey calendar but it surely had an much more devastating influence on junior programmes world wide, on condition that there are few worldwide tournaments for them anyway.
Consequently, there isn’t plenty of intel obtainable on gamers from different groups, with coaches relying largely on the types and patterns utilized by the senior sides of a selected nation to guess how the under-21s may play. On the similar time, coaches have no idea how their very own gamers would reply to a sure state of affairs as properly.
Graham Reid, the India senior crew coach who has been given cost of the juniors for this competitors, admitted as a lot. “We don’t know (how the efficiency of the gamers could be). And I believe that’ll be the reply in the event you ask any of the coaches on the earth as a result of we actually don’t know what the opposition is like,” he stated.
All one of the best and my honest needs to the jr Indian Males’s Hockey Workforce for the @FIH_Hockey Junior World Cup which begins from tomorrow. Hope you all make our nation proud.🇮🇳#IndiaKaGame #RisingStars #JWC2021 pic.twitter.com/6Mu4SndWnX
— Rani Rampal (@imranirampal) November 23, 2021
One of many few issues working in India’s favour is that the core of the present under-21 bunch has been collectively since 2017. Eight of them, together with captain Vivek Sagar Prasad, had been a part of the facet that received the silver medal on the 2018 Youth Olympics though that was performed in a five-a-side format.
Most of their time, nevertheless, has been spent throughout the confines of the Sports activities Authority of India’s Southern Centre in Bengaluru, the place the gamers had been saved in a bio-bubble by way of the pandemic.
Minimize off from the remainder of the hockey world, India’s junior crew hung out on the coaching camp studying English, getting motivational and psychology periods. The one matches they bought to play had been both intra-squad, or towards the senior India crew. “They really beat us in one of many video games we performed,” India captain Manpreet Singh stated.
Nevertheless, the affect of the senior crew on the under-21 gamers has been immense.
The junior crew’s taking part in fashion is similar to that of the senior one, on condition that each units of gamers have been coaching collectively in line with the identical philosophy. The juniors had been coached by BJ Kariappa earlier than Reid was given short-term cost instantly after the Tokyo Olympics. Coaches, although, aren’t the one ones grooming the gamers.
Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, one of many heroes of India’s bronze medal match towards Germany at Tokyo, has been concerned carefully with Prashant Chauhan and Pawan, the 2 custodians of the junior crew.
Drag-flicker Sanjay, who’s the vice-captain, has been getting recommendation from senior crew stalwarts Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinderpal Singh. “They spent a day or two each week with us, instructing us the best way to beat the primary runner, the best way to take the primary few steps whereas taking a flick and the best way to launch the ball…” Sanjay stated.
Prasad, the one participant within the junior crew who was additionally part of the Olympics facet, seems to be as much as Manpreet for inspiration. Prasad performs as centre-half, the identical place as Manpreet, but it surely’s the management expertise that impress the 21-year-old.
He’s been carefully observing Manpreet, who captained India on the 2013 Junior World Cup earlier than turning into one of many star gamers of the senior facet. “I’ve seen how Manpreet handles the crew, carries everybody collectively. I want to replicate that in a event as essential as this one,” Prasad stated.
Prasad is seen by many as future captaincy materials. And the Junior World Cup will give a peek into his talents as a pacesetter. Identical to it should present a glimpse into the celebrities of the longer term. To them, the empty stadium and the shortage of buzz received’t matter a lot.