December 1st is not a date to be fondly remembered in Indian hockey memoirs. India were defeated by Pakistan 1-7 in the 1982 Asian Games final on this date. But that was 39 summers ago. December 1, 2021 in Bhubaneswar had a different and a happy scenario.
India, the defending champion of the men’s junior World Cup, defeated Belgium 1-0 to defend their title in the semifinals, where they will now face Germany on Friday.
It was a repeat of the final of the 2016 edition. The occasion was not as great, but the fashion in which the host team thwarted the effort of Belgium showed a big heart.
The urals were limited to only 1,500 fans, most of them guests and children of the academy, at the Kalinga stadium, with a capacity of 16,000. The number of goals was minimal to decide the final winner. But the enthusiasm with which the Indian players dealt with the defense, staying focused and finding space to clear the ball or pass it to an unmarked player, has few parallels in the history of Indian hockey, which finds its richness in the ability to score goals.
The game started exactly the opposite. The first significant Indian touch of the ball came two minutes after the start, until the Red Lions juniors sprayed the ball, trying to find space.
Junior Hockey World Cup: The Indo-Canadian Connect
Such was the man-to-man scoring, led by the guiding cries of two goalkeepers Pawan and Prashant Chauhan, that he could be used as an example by the players of the academy present.
Coach Graham Reid’s mark was all over the pitch.
In fact, Hockey India’s decision to hand over the junior team to its senior coach right on the eve of the tournament now seems like a masterstroke.
“Every ball, every detail counts. These were two of my points for tonight … One of the things I’m talking about a lot is concentration. They showed that tonight,” Reid told reporters after the game.
After 20 minutes, following yet another great corner, Sanjay knocked the ball to the limit of Sharda Nand Tiwari’s reach, who just couldn’t put it in the net. Immediately after that, the ball was in the Belgian net.
This was the only PC of the game in India. For a team that scored 12 goals outside the penalty corners in the league stage, it was strange to see that the attackers are not really looking to create computers. This was India’s sharpest weapon in this campaign, led by four drag-flick specialists at Reid’s disposal.
In fact, sometimes the attackers carried the ball for a split second, which allowed them neither the shot on goal, nor the chance to find a Belgian foot in the circle.
Reid almost acknowledged that.
“They are Indians, so they want to score goals,” Reid said on a lighter note.
“We are talking a lot about creating PCs. We have a very good PC battery. I’m not shy to tell the boys to take their PCs … (But) When you’re not sure, you hold on to the ball a little longer, (either) you’re nervous, or maybe your options aren’t clear. But I would rather they find a leg than take the ball just for the sake of transporting, “he added.
Finding those penalty corners could be even harder against the German organized defense in the semifinals. But India should not be distracted by their flickers. They are in top shape and deliver the goods. So you can’t find any flaws like that in Reid who wants to create a PC, rather than shoot at the gate.
Reid were given a chance to change things around.
“There were times when they didn’t have to run back, but they did,” he said.
Without saying the exact words, the coach described the performance in the quarterfinals as a heroic effort; and in a team sport, it is unfair to show individuals, a perspective that Reid has always maintained during the historic bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics.
If Sanjay and Tiwari performed the variation on the PC with the precision of a surgeon, the Pawan goalkeeper became the public favorite for his saves in the last minutes, when the Belgians took their goalkeeper and threw everyone in the 23-meter Indian court.
Reid was urged by reporters to name his heroes, but maintained his position, formulating the answer as a solid defense.
“It was a team fight,” Reid said, pointing to his major conclusion to the game … With each player, he focused on the effort. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for. ”
Reid and Indian hockey may not want to look any further than Friday, when India play Germany in the second semi-final; but India’s power and supply chain surprised both fans and experts alike, despite the fact that juniors have not been exposed internationally in the last two years.
A Twitter fan said it in words that need a mention and possibly summarizes the impact this performance has had on fans.
“India’s future in hockey can be said to be bright. Podiums will soon become a habit. ”