Crowds pour in to witness India march to title in showpiece finale
SPURRED by the beats of drums from the galleries, hosts India reclaimed the Junior World Cup after a gap of 15 years by prevailing 2-1 over Belgium in the title encounter.
It was standing room only as 17,000 fans packed into the Major Dhyan Chand Hockey Stadium in Lucknow to see their local heroes strike gold for the second time in this global tournament, at last replicating their triumph from 2001 in Hobart.
Open-play goals from Gurjant Singh and Simranjeet Singh put India in command in their third Junior World Cup final appearance.
They muffed two more scoring chances even as they endured a Belgian fightback and fell back to guard their territory in the second half.
Aware that Belgium’s well-structured defence would prove difficult, India hoped to capitalise on counter-attacks and stationed two strikers on top of the circle.
The tactics bore fruit in the eighth minute when a long aerial ball into the circle from Varun Kumar was padded by the custodian straight to Gurjant.
He pounced on the chance and scored with a rasping reverse drive from an acute angle that landed in the goal’s far right corner. Simranjeet increased the Indian lead in the 22nd minute with a quick reverse from top of the circle.
In a late fightback, Belgium managed to breach the Indian defence on an overtime penalty corner through Fabrice van Bockrijck in the dying seconds, at a time when celebrations had already begun on the Indian bench.
In their two previous two appearances in the final, India had finished second behind Australia at Milton Keynes in 1997 and won the title by overcoming Argentina in 2001.
India’s passage to the final here featured a 4-2 penalty shoot-out victory over a strong Australian side in the semi-finals, where the regulation period had ended on a 2-2 deadlock.
Earlier, in the quarterfinals, the hosts were given a scare by Spain (2-1), who defended stoutly after taking the lead, only to concede two late penalty corner goals to let India off the hook.
The Indians had topped their preliminary group with three successive wins against Canada (4-0), England (5-3) and South Africa (2-1), but the Africans had pushed them close.
The leading lights of the Indian campaign were livewire striker Mandeep Singh and penalty corner flicker Harmanpreet Singh.
Meanwhile, captain Harjeet Singh played the composed play-maker as they registered a 100 per cent record to assert their claim on the title.
Eleven Indian players come from the Surjit Hockey Academy, named after former Indian captain Surjit Singh, in Punjab’s Jalandhar city. Playing together since their school days, they formed the crux of the Indian squad that was put under the charge of coach Harendra Singh two years
ago. Often termed a failed player for his inability to graduate to the international ranks as a deep defender, Harendra played his part in building this winning combination.
Three years ago, when India hosted the Junior World Cup in its capital, New Delhi, India had failed to advance to the quarterfinals and finished a disappointing 10th.
Goalkeeper Loic van Doren was the star-performer for Belgium as he won consecutive penalty shoot-outs against Argentina in the quarter-finals (after their match had finished 1-1 in regulation time) and two-time defending champions Germany in the semifinals (after an unusual goalless draw).
Van Doren’s sterling show dashed Garman hopes of a third successive title after they had edged out England 4-2 in the last eight.
England were pushed back into their own territory by the dominant German line-up, but came into the contest only in the last quarter to pull two goals back.
Pressing hard for an equaliser at 3-2, England had two shots at the rival goal in the closing stages but promptly conceded a goal at the other end in the dying stages. England, thus, failed to make what would have been their first semi-final in 15 years.
Timm Herzbruch, who was adjudged the best Under-19 player of the tournament, scored twice to lead Germany to a 3-0 victory over Australia in the bronze medal match.
Herzbruch got into the goal-scoring act after Jan Schiffer’s 11th-minute strike in open play had put the Germans ahead at half-time.
Lucky in Lucknow: Simranjeet struck India’s second
Singh when you’re winning: Gurjant celebrates
Fireworks: The victorious Indian team celebrate their triumph