Bhubaneswar, Nov 30 (PTI): Their mojo back after two resounding wins, defending champions India would bank on their attacking instinct and drag-flicking prowess to outwit European giants Belgium in the quarterfinal of the FIH Men’s Junior Hockey World Cup here on Wednesday.
One of the title favourites, India were slow to get off the blocks as they were stunned 4-5 by France before they got their acts together and thrashed Canada 13-1 and Poland 8-2 to finish second in Pool B and qualify for the knockout round.
But from here on, the Indians need to play their hearts out if they want to win the title for the third time.
The quarterfinal against Belgium will be a re-match of last edition’s final where India beat the European side 2-1 to claim the title under Harendra Singh in Lukcnow in 2016.
And come Wednesday, it is expected to be a hard-fought tie. The team which utilises their chances is expected to come out on top.
India boast of a fiery attacking line-up with the likes of Uttam Singh, Araijeet Singh Hundal, Sudeep Chirmako and Maninder Singh.
Uttam and Maninder, in particular, have been brilliant inside the opponents’ circle.
To add to India’s strength is the presence of penalty corner options in vice-captain Sanjay Kumar, Hundal, Shardanand Tiwari and Abhishek Lakra, and all of whom have scored in the tournament so far.
Sanjay, in particular, has been in ominous form with set pieces and have registered back-to-back hat-tricks against France and Canada, while Hundal also scored three goals against Poland.
The midfield is in safe hands of skipper Vivek Sagar Prasad, who already has the experience of playing top-level hockey having been part of India’s historic bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics.
The backline, however, remains a concern and the likes of Sanjay, Tiwari, Lakra and Yashdeep Siwach will have to be on their toes to keep the Belgians at bay.
India’s chief coach Graham Reid, who is in charge of the junior side for this tournament, sounded confident ahead of the crucial tie.
“The players had a look at them (Belgium) and we are very confident. Hopefully, we can go and get a win,” said the Australian, who guided India to the Tokyo Olympics bronze.
India captain Vivek too echoed his coach’s view.
“Belgium is a very good team and we will try to do our best against them,” he said.
Belgium have never won the Junior World Cup and pressure would be high on them to replicate the success of their senior team, which is the reigning Olympic as well world champions.
Belgium head coach Jeroen Baart is well aware of India’s threat from penalty corners and said his players will need to keep a strong defensive structure on Wednesday to deal with it.
“India were very efficient (with penalty corners). There are three boys (Sanjay, Hundal and Tiwari) who are very good in PC conversions. Very good with drag-filck, very aggressive on the rebound. It is obviously a big threat,” he said.
“For us, it starts with defending with a really high sprint outside the circle and don’t fall on the trap of giving easy PCs away. If we give away PCs, we really depend on our first runners, we rely on our goalkeepers. We rely on our defensive structure.”
With the tournament being held inside a bio-bubble due to the COVID-19 threat, Baart feels it will work a bit in his side’s favour.
“It’s a pressure less for us. It’s something we are not really used to (playing in front of packed stadium). Looking back at 2016 we struggle a bit in the first half of the tournament. Indian support was creative in Lucknow,” said Baart, who had also coached the side in the last edition of the tournament.
“It also gives some extra pressure and load on Indian players. I am really curious to see with only 1000 spectators inside the stadium. But there will be a lot of noise, there will be a bit of atmosphere.”
In the other quarterfinals of the day, Germany will play Spain, Netherlands will take on Argentina and France will square off against Malaysia.