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No Team Would be Easy at Junior World Cup, Says Senior Coach Graham Reid

Indian senior men’s team coach Graham Reid is overseeing the preparations of the squad for the FIH Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup to be held in Bhubaneswar from November 24 to December 5. The camp has been, however, has been hit by rough weather, reportedly, by a dengue outbreak in the SAI campus in Bengaluru while lack of match practice continues to be a point of concern for the team management.
The Indian junior women’s hockey squad members at SAI Bengaluru

The Indian junior women’s hockey squad members train at the SAI center in Bengaluru. The selected players will travel to South Africa from the FIH Junior Women’s World Cup to be played just after the men’s tournament -- from December 5 to 16 (Pic: Hockey India, Twitter).

Indian senior men’s hockey team chief coach Graham Reid has joined the junior team camp to oversee the final preparations of the colts for the FIH Junior Men’s Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar starting next month. 

The preparations for the World Cup hit a bit of rough weather though. Reports came out a couple of days back that four members of the men’s junior side tested positive for dengue. Reportedly, the Bengaluru Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre where the hockey squads are based, is batting a dengue outbreak.

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The New Indian Express reported, quoting sources, that almost 50 out of the 200-odd trainees, across different disciplines at SAI Bengaluru were down with fever and weakness in the last two weeks. Of them, five -- four from the junior hockey team and one from athletics -- tested positive for dengue. 

Amidst the medical emergency -- a non Covid-19 kind but Dengue is dangerous in its own way -- the hockey squads are entering their final phase of preparations. The November 24-December 5 men’s junior tournament  features 16 teams with hosts India, the defending champions, placed in the preliminary Pool B alongside France, Canada and Poland. A relatively easier pool on paper, but coach Reid is not willing to take any side lightly at the premier age-group tournament.

"No team can be taken lightly in an event like the World Cup,” Reid was quoted in a Hockey India press statement.

“I always tell the players to take it one match-at-a-time and not get ahead of ourselves at any point in the tournament until we have achieved what we have set out for,” he added. “What is important for us is to get some good practice matches in Bhubaneswar so the players get a feel of the pitch and I am talking to coaches of some European teams to see if we can play friendlies with them when they arrive in Bhubaneswar." 

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Match practice is what the Indians are lacking -- both the junior sides (the junior women will travel to Potchefstroom, South Africa, for the World Cup to be staged from December 5 to 16). However, since they are in a training bio bubble at the SAI campus which houses the senior teams, that experience will keep them in good stead. The spirit of the Indian senior sides are on an all time high too after the great showing at the Tokyo Olympics. That would also leave a positive impact on the youngsters.

However, match experience would prove a big factor at the World Cup which is a very short tournament. India open their campaign against France on November 24, take on Canada the next day and play Poland on November 27. The winners of each group will progress to the semifinals on December 3. It truly is a rapid-fire tournament with no scope for easing off the tempo.

Coach BJ Kariappa, who has been training the side since 2017, said the internal matches, especially with the senior players, is helping his wards get accustomed to match tempo and pressure (at least some semblance of it).

"The good thing about our preparations is that both Junior and Senior Men are housed in the same campus here in SAI, Bengaluru,” said Kariappa. 

“So, we get to play a lot of internal matches with the Senior team and the energy within the group is great and each one is pushing the other player to perform on a daily basis. This group has some really talented players with good skill. I believe we are ready for the challenge in Bhubaneswar," he added.

The players, training for the past two years just for this tournament, are raring to go. However, there is a bit of nervous energy in the camp too because the final squads are yet to be announced. The healthy competition for selection in the camp could add a bit more pressure in match simulations, something which is not exactly a replacement for actual matches against rival teams, but the team management will take them.

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"There is definitely a lot of excitement among the players and there is some anxiousness too as we are yet to pick the final team that will play in the Junior World Cup,” said Reid. 

“But having said that, the players are all very upbeat and are looking forward to playing in Bhubaneswar as they have heard a lot about the venue from their senior compatriots," added the Aussie.

The 16 teams in the fray in the Men's Junior World Cup are: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Poland, South Africa, Spain, The Netherlands and the United States.

In the FIH Women's Junior World Cup in South Africa, India are placed in Pool C alongside title holders Argentina, Japan and Russia. The Indians will open their campaign against Russia on December 6, followed by matches against Argentina (December 7) and Japan (December 9).

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