Brazil coach Percy Oncken walked off the court in a daze on July 6, 2003 after an unknown bunch of boys beat his team in the men’s U-19 (Youth) Volleyball Championship at Suphan Buri, Thailand. Not only Oncken and his team, the entire volleyball fraternity was shocked. Though Brazil extracted revenge by beating India in the final, the silver medal made people sit up and take note of the rising tide from India.
On Tuesday, India raised vision of that famous victory by stunning Russia at the men’s U-21 World Championship, currently on at Balewadi, Pune. And despite India going down 3-0 to Argentina on Wednesday, one cannot take away the credit from the home team spikers who have shown the aptitude to stand up to the best teams in the world.
India may be in a must-win situation to secure the last-four berth in the championship when they take on Belgium on Thursday, but it’s not that the world volleyball fraternity doesn’t recognise the hosts’ true potential.
The Indian men’s team finished eighth in the World Championship (old format) in 1952 and won the Asian Tournament in Tokyo in 1955. India has won two bronze medals in the Asian Games (Tokyo 1958 and Seoul 1986) and three gold in the Rashid Memorial in Dubai in the ‘90s. But the ride has been bumpy with each good performance followed by indifferent results.
After the silver at the 2003 World Youth Championship, India hosted the U-21 World Championship at Visakhapatnam in 2005 but finished in the nine to 12 bracket. The team failed to qualify for the 2007 edition and only got to play in Pune as hosts.
But it seems the boys are making the most of this chance.
On Tuesday, India made everyone sit up once again when they prevailed over three-time champions Russia in a five-set thriller, raising hopes of reaching the semifinals of the tournament for the first time.
Confidence and never-say-die attitude is a hallmark of this Indian team as it reached the medals round by upsetting USA in their last first-round match. The team has had lengthy camps at Bangalore but came to Pune virtually without any match practice against foreign teams. Whether the team makes it to the semifinals or not, reaching the second round and beating Russia is in itself a big achievement for MH Kumara’s boys.