High-flying defending champions India would bank on their solid defensive structure and drag-flicking prowess to outsmart six-time title-winners Germany in the semi-final of the FIH Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar on Friday.
After a disappointing start to the tournament when they were stunned 4-5 by France, India lifted their game by leaps and bounds to qualify for their second consecutive semi-final in the Junior World Cup.
India produced a defensive masterclass on Wednesday to eke out a narrow 1-0 win over European giants Belgium with the likes of Yashdeep Siwach, vice-captain Sanjay Kumar and Shardanand Tiwai shining bright in the backline.
India’s two goalkeepers – Prasanth Chauhan and Pawan, in particular, were terrific against Belgium and produced some breathtaking saves to deny their opponents.
With four quality penalty corner specialists – Sanjay, Tiwari, Araijeet Singh Hundal and Abhishek Lakra – in their ranks, India’s strength lies in set pieces and it has been quite evident in the tournament so far.
In fact, India’s winner against Belgium came from a penalty corner through Tiwari after he was brilliantly set up by a dummy from Sanjay.
Even though Sanjay didn’t score in the quarter-final, he still remains India’s best bet from set-pieces and has already registered back-to-back hat-tricks against France and Poland in the pool stages.
The hallmark of India’s performance against Belgium was the calm and composed mindset of the players when put under pressure and chief coach Graham Reid too accepted the fact.
“Our defence was much better than our first game against France. We did a lot of work on it,” he said.
“Both keepers played very well. It was nice to see them really shine. But we have still got some work to do.
“One of things I talk a lot about is focus and making sure that whenever we are on the pitch we are living in present about whatever we are doing. Calmness normally comes from being prepared. If you are prepared that helps,” the Australian added.
Against Belgium, Uttam Singh was a livewire upfront, showing his wide range of skills by twisting and turning to create opportunities, but Hundal and Bobby Singh Dhami need to be more creative.
Skipper Vivek Sagar Prasad, who already has the experience of playing top-level hockey having been a part of India’s historic bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics, continued to shine in the midfield with his calming influence.
But the Germans would be a tough nut to crack as they would be aiming to reclaim the world title after a hiatus of eight years.
Germany last won the Junior World Cup title in 2013 in New Delhi but since then, a third-place finish in the last edition in Lucknow in 2016 was the best they could achieve.
Reid too acknowledged Germany’s potential at this level.
“You should never ever write Germany off even in the last seconds. They have proven over the years that they are a class side, especially in this level of competition. Junior World Cup they almost own it,” he said.
“They are a quality team.”
Meanwhile, in the other semifinal, the tournament’s surprise package France will be up against Argentina.
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