India will aim for a third straight to decide the Group D topper when they take on South Africa for the first-time ever at the junior level in the Junior Men’s World Cup Hockey here on Monday.
Leading the pool with six points from two games, India will qualify for the quarterfinals even if they lose by a narrow margin as they have a goal difference of six compared to South Africa’s zero. Thus, only losing by a huge margin against the currently third-placed opponents can derail the home team.
England, second in Group D, will fancy their chances against lowly Canada in their last pool match on Tuesday. India, in all likelihood, will play Spain or New Zealand if they qualify for the quarters as pool-toppers.
India captain Harjeet Singh and coach Harendra Singh are confident of the team’s ability to handle any rival here. “After the match against England, we are in the third gear of our process. Once it is made perfect, we will start thinking about our strategy for the knockout games.”
Harendra said: “We believe in keeping things straight and simple. That’s our mantra for handling all rivals as one should believe in himself.”
The match begins at 6pm.
“It’s true we have never played against the Proteas in junior hockey, but we aren’t taking them lightly. In fact, we are more concerned about our own confidence,” said Harendra, urging his players to focus on one match at a time.
Dubbed the favourites, India beat Canada 4-0 and England 5-3, whom they trailed by a goal in the first 10 minutes. “We would like to top the group as it will allow us to take the second team of other group in quarterfinals,” said Harjeet, who praised the team for going all-out once they levelled the score against England on Saturday.
“This is what we have learnt from our coaches. Don’t leave rivals injured when you are battling against them, keep hitting them till they die,” said Harjeet ahead of the team’s training on Sunday.
However, he denied the team came under pressure after conceding an early goal against England. “In hockey, even two minutes are good enough to score two goals. We had 60 minutes to level the score after that so there was no question of any pressure on us.”
Is conceding two goals in the last minute a worry? “It happens with every team. It’s just an illusion of the media that India concede goals in the dying minutes and are unable to defend their goal,” India’s senior team coach, Roelant Oltmans, said.
“There is nothing wrong as boys have been doing well in all departments. What they should be careful of is fouls as sometimes overexcitement creates problem for you,” said Oltsman, referring to two green and yellow cards each which Indian players were shown against England.