Junior World Cup: Better late than never

Hockey Men's Hockey World Cup in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo

Under their South African coach Gregg Clark, the Manpreet Singh-led Under-21 hockey team have added one crucial aspect to their game which Indian teams of recent years - senior or age-group - sorely lacked: character. Rather than succumbing to nerves and letting in the shattering late goal, the Indian hockey fan recurring nightmare, the current bunch of colts have now made it a habit of coming up with winning strikes in the dying minutes of games. Unlike in the past, even when they have trailed.

According to Clark, it's this element that's going to stand them in good stead as they face their toughest test yet, the Junior World Cup beginning in New Delhi on December 6. "This team has a lot of character and bouncebackabilty," coach Clark, who took up the India Under-21 team's reins in April, said on the sidelines of a training session on Friday evening.

He cites a few examples.

"At the Sultan of Johor Cup in Malaysia (which the India colts comprehensively won in September), we were down in the first two games matches, but we came back and won those matches. The last game in the pool, we were 3-2 down with about 90 seconds left on the clock, and we got a draw out of that game.

"At the Asian Champions Trophy in Japan, we went down a couple of times to Pakistan, with early goals in both halves, but we came back close to getting a result we lost 5-4."

The Pakistan result, despite the loss, is remarkable because India were playing their junior team in the senior-level tournament.

This newly acquired facet, the character, will be severely tested in their very first game when they take on the Netherlands next Friday. The last time an Indian team face the Dutch in a major event, they put up a fight in a 3-2 loss, but their wheels came off subsequently in the tournament and they finished last. That was at the Olympics in London last year.

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