Lucknow (7 Dec, 2016): Sixteen teams – four from Asia in the form of hosts India, Japan, Korea and late entry Malaysia, will do battle in the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016, which gets underway on Dec 8 at the Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium here.
Six-time champions Germany will be attempting to win their third men’s Junior World Cup in a row, following their successes at 2013 and 2009.
Coached by Valentin Altenburg, who guided Germany’s men to the bronze medal in the Rio Olympics, the team is here with senior internationals Lukas Windfeder and team captain Constantin Staib as well as striker and 2016 FIH Rising Star of the Year Award nominee Timm Herzbruch, a bronze medallist with Germany at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Australia, the 1997 Junior World Cup winners, arrived in Lucknow full of confidence following their title success at the recent Sultan of Johor Cup 2016 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
The Netherlands, winners of the European Junior Nations Championship 2014, are also claiming to be title contenders. But the Junior World Cup is not all about past champions. It’s about having the pedigree, commitment and a bit of luck which puts even hosts India, Belgium, Canada, England, Japan, Korea, Egypt, New Zealand, Malaysia, South Africa and Spain as real challenges to the coveted title.
The Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior World Cup Men Lucknow 2016, however, may just unveil a new script at the newly refurbished Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium situated within the grounds of the Guru Gobind Singh Sports College. That has been the magic of the Men’s Junior World Cup.
India will be rightly considered as top contender for the title as the team has quality players in senior internationals Harmanpreet Singh, Mandeep Singh, goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, captain Harjeet Singh and Ajit Panday.
With over 60 senior international appearances, 21-year-old forward Mandeep is the most experienced player of the squad, having represented India in the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014 and the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy 2016.
As preparations go into full swing on the eve of the event on Wednesday with school children in rehearsal for Thursday’s opening ceremony and the smell of newly-coated paint permeating the air, the Indians were focussed on putting finishing touches for their Group D opening act against Canada in one end of the pitch.
Senior team coach Roelant Oltmans has been roped in as team manager and that is just how serious the Indians mean business.
As India’s head coach Harendra Singh, observed: “We leave it to God. Every team here has quality and we would like to go into this World Cup with a positive mind. As usual we will take it one match at a time.”
It is the second time that India has played host to the men’s Junior World Cup, having also done in so in 2013 when a young Christopher Rühr inspired Germany to a second successive title at the event in New Delhi.
With four teams fighting it out for two available quarter-final places in each of the four pools every single match counts and a slip-up by any team, including India, may prove costly.
The Koreans, Japanese and Malaysians are here equally to show the world that they have the pedigree to be on the world stage.
Korea finished third at the 2015 Junior Asian Cup in Kuantan, Malaysia to secure Junior World Cup qualification, beating Japan to take the bronze medal. Seo Woohyeon and seventeen-year-old goalkeeper Kim Jaehan were both members of the Korea squad that competed in the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy in London earlier this year, experience which could prove vital to their title challenge.
Japan is making its third appearance at a Junior World Cup, following their 13th place finish in 2009 and 11th place finish in 1997. The team qualified by finishing fourth at the 2015 Junior Asia Cup in Kuantan, Malaysia. Four members of the squad selected for Lucknow – Kentaro Fukuda, Kota Watanabe, Shuhei Hatano and goalkeeper Takumi Chida – represented Japan seniors at the 2016 Men’s Asian Champions Trophy.
Malaysia, who accepted a late invitation to replace Pakistan, has produced some strong performances in previous editions of the Junior World Cup. The majority of the players in the team competed in the recent Sultan of Johor Cup, where Malaysia finished in fifth place.
The team ended the competition with two successive victories over New Zealand, and will be aiming to continue that winning streak here.