Defeat to a lower-ranked team in the opening round usually has a demoralizing effect. But the India under 18 took that setback in its stride as it established its supremacy in the Asia Cup that concluded last week in Dhaka, Bangladesh, overcoming the hosts in a tense finale.
The team coached by Karnataka’s BJ Kariappa lost 4-5 to hosts Bangladesh in their opening match but came back strongly to overcome hosts Bangladesh 5-4 in the final, scoring the winner in the dying moments of the nerve-racking encounter against a team egged on by a capacity crowd.
This was the second time that India has won the U-18 Asia Cup title. They won the inaugural edition in 2001 but the tournament was discontinued for eight years and revived only in 2009. Given a break again after the 2011 edition in which India did not participate.
The big match for the team in the seven-team competition in which they were in the three-team Pool A, was the semifinal clash against archrivals Pakistan, that India won easily 3-1. Played a few hours after news of India’s “surgical strikes” across the LOC broke through, the clash with Pakistan was a high-tension affair, but the boys did not show any nerves. Kariappa’s young lads, who were selected on the basis of their performance in the sub-junior nationals last year and had only a two-week camp in New Delhi to prepare for the competition in Dhaka, played according to a plan and did not give their rivals many chances to take control of the match.
The final against Bangladesh was another tense affair and the teams went neck-and-neck before India forward Abhishek finally scored the winner just three seconds before the final hooter.
Coach Kariappa, who is also Hockey India’s high performance manager for South Zone, praised his team’s resolve and killing instinct that saw them fight back after the opening game debacle.
“It was a good performance by the boys considering 15 of the 18 players were making their international debut. After losing the first match, the boys were much focused; they wanted to improve and showed lot of resolve and inclination towards making a comeback. They had that eagerness to win, the killer instinct was there till the end, in the final, and they scored in the last three seconds. The boys showed total positive attitude till the end,” Kariappa told HT over phone from Bangalore.
The U-18 Asia Cup win augurs well for Indian hockey as India is hosting the Junior World Cup (U-21) in Lucknow from December 8-18 this year and two boys from this team have been shortlisted for the camp. “Actually seven from this lot were with the Junior team for the first camp but five been have been relieved as probable have been shortlisted to 25,” informed Kariappa, who has been a coach with the senior team a few years back.
The Junior (U-21) team coached by Harendra Singh is currently playing in the Australian Hockey League in Perth and will reassemble for a crucial camp for the Junior World Cup in November after they return from Australia towards the end of this month.
Kariappa felt that these players are being groomed at the SAI’s national academy and would be part of the next Junior World Cup in four years’ time.