It’s going to be India versus almost India in the hosts’ opening encounter at the Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup here on Thursday. After all, opponents Canada feature 13 players who have an Indian connection; two of them were born in the country while the rest of them are of Indian origin.
For Canada captain Balraj Panesar — who hails from Punjab — hockey runs in the family. His father represented Canada at the Junior World Cup while grandfather played in Olympics for Uganda.
Canada — who qualified for the event after ending runners-up in the Junior Pan-Am Championship at Toronto — recorded their best finish in the 1982 edition when they finished eighth, and came last in New Delhi three years ago.
Coach Inderpal Sehmbi though hopes his boys would carry forward their legacy and family heritage.
“I see this tournament as an opportunity for the players to get better so that in the next 5-6 years they get to play for the senior side,” he said. “We were not even surprised by the way our seniors played against India at Rio (Canada drew 2-2 against India). We aren’t here with any special plan, but we are here to play good hockey.”
On the flip side, Harjeet Singh and Co would aim for a winning start, after the hosts lost both their practice matches against Argentina and The Netherlands. “Those results make no sense now as it’s a fresh start for us,” Harjeet told HT.
“We have our own plans for the match, and we are focusing on one game at a time,” added Harjeet, who would lead senior internationals like Harmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh and Ajit Panday, besides having experienced Vikas Dahiya to man the goalpost.
Mandeep, the most experienced player
With over 60 international appearances, the 21-year-old striker Mandeep is the most experienced player in the side and has represented India at major events, including the Robobank Hockey World Cup in 2014 and the Champions Trophy early this year.
Coach Harendra Singh too admitted that his boys would like to continue their solid run, which saw the team win the Four Nations Tournament in Valencia last month, defeating world champions Germany in the final. “We are focused on our scheme for the match, and I hope that boys would execute the plans well,” he added.
Considered one of the favourites this time around, India won their solitary title in 2001 after finishing runners-up in 1997. In 2005, the team missed out on the bronze medal by a whisker but senior India team coach Roelant Oltmans is not thinking of the past. “For now, we are focused on this event only, and are not thinking anything beyond this,” said Oltmans, who is working with the junior team here.
On Thursday, before India kick off their campaign at 7.00 pm at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, New Zealand would lock horns with Japan at 11.30 am, followed by Spain vs Germany at 1.30 pm, and England playing South Africa at 3.30 pm.