There are a few worries for coach A.K. Bansal when he takes his buoyant U-18 squad to Myanmar next week for the U-18 Asia Cup hockey. By his own admission, unknown opponents and little time for preparation are two obstacles that lie in his wards' quest for the event, which is taking place after a gap of eight years.
“Ideally, we would have liked to have more time for preparations,” said Bansal. The overage controversy in the U-18 team trials in September, when 48 of the 53 players were found overage, robbed the team of about a month of preparations. The trials had to be done again and a fresh batch was selected out of which the current team has been carved out.
“That issue cost us some valuable time. I feel that with U-18 players you need more time, at least six months or so,” Bansal said. “Usually, in younger age groups it takes time to assess and train players.”
He had a point for he couldn't single out any one special player when asked. “It is tough for me to say that now.”
That apart, the coach says, the competing teams could throw up some challenges. “This is the other trouble with junior teams. The opponents are an unknown quantity since you haven't seen them before.”
India have Pakistan and Malaysia in their group besides some weaker teams, while Korea are the only Asian power in the other pool.
“We'd go for attacking hockey against Malaysia and Pakistan,” said Bansal.
The U-18 Asia Cup has been an irregular feature on the Asian Hockey Federation's roster. It was supposed to be a quadrennial event, but after 2001, there was no edition till Myanmar this year was decided upon. The team, during its approximately month-long stay at the Sports Authority of India centre here, played some practice matches with the senior women’s hockey team.