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Germany's title defence looked in tatters on the first day of Hockey Junior World Cup when they went down 3-1 to Belgium in their Group B opener. However, under the three-time Olympic gold-winning coach Markus Weise's watch, they completed a stunning turnaround, annihilating almost every rival thereafter to stand on the brink of their sixth Under-21 world title.
In the gold-medal clash, after trailing 2-1 at the beginning of the second half to the unexpected finalists France, Germany raised their game several notches as they pumped in four goals to a comprehensive 5-2 result. The scoreline, though harsh on France, befitted a team which has completely dominated the event since its inception in 1979.
Of the 10 editions of the Junior World Cup, Germany have won six. Pakistan, Australia, India and Argentina have won one each. It's a hegemony not unlike India's between 1928-1980. If the German U-21 team were a business firm, such monopoly would've invoked Europe's anti-trust law.
Their competition on Sunday couldn't have been more unlikely. France don't have a tradition of hockey as their west European neighbours — Holland, Germany, Spain, Belgium or Great Britain — have. Their senior men's team is ranked 17th in the world, behind, among others, Malaysia, Belgium, Argentina and Spain, whose junior teams the French colts defeated here during their dream run.
The reason behind their success is the investment that the French federation has put in their youth system in recent years. In 2012, they finished fourth in the Junior Euro Hockey, behind Belgium, Germany and Holland. They were competitive in that event, except for one match that they lost 8-0 to Germany.
In the first half on Sunday, egged on by the chants of 'Allez, Les Bleus', they showed they have made further progress. In fact, between the second minute to the half-time whistle, it was France who were playing like Germany. Germany, in turn, were barely recognisable from the rampant team of previous matches, playing more like India on big-match days — sloppy and full of nerves.