Asia’s potent force ready for Lucknow

Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Lucknow

14 Nov

10 November, 2016: ASIAN champions India, Japan, Pakistan and Korea will step into the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016 from 8-18 December oozing some form of confidence following successful performances in recent international events.

The teams are into the final phase of preparations for the Junior World Cup with just 27 days to go for their opening act in the 11-day showpiece.

The Junior World Cup will feature teams from 16 nations — Argentina, Australia, Korea and Austria are placed in Group A; Belgium, Egypt, Netherlands and Pakistan in Group B followed by defending champions Germany, New Zealand, Japan and Spain drawn in Group C while India, Canada, England and South Africa are in Group D.

Germany is the most successful team in the Junior World Cup having won the title six times (1982, 1985, 1989, 1993, 2009 and 2013) followed by Pakistan (1979), Australia (1997), India (2001) and Argentina (2005).

The top two teams from each group qualify for the Dec 14 quarterfinals followed by the semi-finals on Dec 16 and final on Dec 18.

Hosts India will step up its preparation in SAI, Bengaluru with two weeks of camp before leaving for Lucknow later this month for practice matches at the newly renovated Major Dhyan Chand Stadium.

The Indian colts returned from Valencia, Spain where they won the Four-Nation Tournament by defeating defending Champions Germany 5-2 in the final. Earlier in the league, India had beaten Germany 3-1.

Junior team chief coach, Harendra Singh, said the overall performance of the team in Spain has been a great motivating factor going into the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016.

“I feel beating Germany has made a lot of difference to the team’s confidence. Until now, in the run up to the Junior World Cup, we had not played European teams. We had a good show against Spain where we beat them 3-1 in the league match and 1-0 in the semi-final,” said Harendra.

“Our only defeat was against Belgium. But the players are in great shape and the final two weeks of camp in Bengaluru will be crucial,” he said, adding that Hockey India will announce the squad after the final selection trial on Friday.

Former South Africa Olympic hockey player Dave Staniford is expected to work in polishing the grey areas with goalkeepers Vikas Dahiya, Suraj Karkera and Krishan B Peathak.

Day One action on Dec 8 will be an entertaining experience for Lucknow sports fans with New Zealand and Japan kicking off the action followed by reigning champions Germany starts their title defence against Spain. The much anticipated opening ceremony will take place shortly after that before Asian Junior champions India take on Canada.

The Day Two highlights include Oceania champions Australia match against Korea, while the game between Hockey Junior World Cup 2014 bronze medallists Netherlands and Pakistan is sure to offer plenty of excitement.

For the Pakistanis, the Lucknow experience will give an indication of Pakistan’s future as they embark to return to the top of world hockey.

Pakistan Hockey Federation secretary, Shahbaz Ahmed, a former captain and Olympian, said: “The Junior World Cup is very important for the future of our hockey set-up as we need to test the new talent in a major tournament and majority of these players will be front runners to play in the senior team in the World Cup qualifying tournament next year.”

“We are presently ranked 13th in the world while India is 6th so we need to understand we have some catching up to do with other nations that is why the Junior World Cup is significant for our hockey,” he said.

Pakistan’s junior team, coached by Tahir Zaman, rose from the ashes in the just concluded six-nation Sultan of Johor Cup in this southern tip of the Malaysian peninsular city of Johor Baru by putting up a strong show against Australia before going down 1-3 in their first ever final after five earlier turned failures.

It was a remarkable turnaround performance from the green shirts that were beaten 8-1 by the Australians in a pool match earlier and the much needed boost towards their Junior World Cup campaign.

“Our first target coming in the SOJC was to play good hockey for a podium finish in our preparations for the Junior World Cup. Having done that I believe the level of confidence among the players will remain positive. This is a good sign as we face great pressure from European teams in Lucknow,” said Tahir in a recent interview.

The Japanese, just as the Pakistanis, are also riding high in confidence following a remarkable come-from-behind performance and stroke of luck in the Johor Baru en route to Lucknow next month. Japan went down 0-6 against the Australians in their opening match but galloped gallantly to beat New Zealand 5-2, downed defending champions England 2-1 in pool match and prevailed 4-1 against the Englishmen for the bronze medal.

Hockey Australia on Friday announced a squad of 18 players for the Junior World Cup and among selected are Rio 2016 Olympian Blake Govers, and fellow senior Kookaburras Josh Beltz and Tom Craig. National Development Squad player Kiran Arunasalam is also included, with the remainder of the squad comprising members of the National Junior Squad.

National Junior Coach Ben Bishop said the selection of the squad for the 2016 Junior World Cup was extremely difficult as they have a very talented junior group who recently won the Sultan of Johor Cup, and it was a difficult task naming the 18 players.

“We have selected a group who we believe will give us every chance of success at the Junior World Cup, and we are now focused on doing everything we can to make sure we’re in top form for the competition.

“High quality, competitive international competition is hard to come by for young Australian hockey players because of our geography and the cost of travel. The outstanding financial support we receive from Australian Commonwealth Games Association through its NextGEN AUSComGames program plays a big role in helping us prepare for the Junior World Cup,” added Bishop.

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