After topping group A with a resounding 17-0 victory over Thailand, the India take on South Korea in the semi-finals of the men’s Junior Asia Cup 2023 in Salalah, Oman on Wednesday.

By virtue of reaching the last-four of the tournament, India have also qualified for the FIH Junior Hockey men’s World Cup 2023, which will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 5 to 16 December 2023.

Captain Uttam Singh discussed the upcoming game in a virtual press conference on Monday, saying, “We have a good atmosphere in the camp. One of our tournament goals was to qualify for the Junior World Cup, which we accomplished. We are one of Asia’s top teams, so it is essential that we perform well in the Junior Asia Cup as well. We have done well so far, and will look to continue to do so in the semi-finals as well.”

“When we prepare at camp, we never know which teams we will face at what stage. Hence, we always keep our plans and targets in mind and do our best to stick to them against any opposition,” he added.

India finished the group stage of the tournament unbeaten, winning their first game 18-0 against Chinese Taipei and following it up with a 3-1 win over Japan. Against traditional rivals Pakistan, India earned a thrilling 1-1 draw and then defeated Thailand 17-0 to top group A.

When asked about the team’s performance in the tournament so far, coach CR Kumar said, “We have always had faith in this team. We held a long camp and we prepared well with the help of Hockey India and SAI. We are hoping for a good clash against Korea. The team has performed well so far in the tournament, and we have stuck to our plans. We will look to continue the momentum in the upcoming games.”

“It is always exciting to work with youngsters, the future players,” he added. “Hockey today is like an electronic product, there is nothing called latest because tomorrow something new will come along – new ideas, tech, creative plans. My responsibility is to convey the same to the players and help them adopt and adapt to the constantly changing conditions. I am not looking at the World Cup only but beyond to make sure they realise their potential and are ready for the senior team.”

Meanwhile, South Korea have also been in good form this tournament, having defeated Uzbekistan 6-1, and then followed it up with an 8-1 win over Oman. Korea lost 1-3 to Malaysia but bounced back to beat Bangladesh 3-1 to finish in the second spot in Pool B.

The last time India faced South Korea was in the 2013 junior World Cup, which ended in a 3-3 tie. Since 2005, the two teams have met five times, with each team winning twice and one game ending in a tie.

Speaking about the pressure of playing in the semi-finals, Uttam Singh said, “We had performed well at the Sultan of Johor Cup last year and we gave a good fight to strong teams. We defeated Australia to win the title. We have brought that experience along with us in this tournament which will help us in the upcoming matches.”

India’s semi-final against South Korea will be streamed live on on Wednesday, 31May at 2000 hrs IST.