The Men’s Hero Hockey Junior World Cup 2013, featuring the world finest young players, opens on Friday in the grandiose Major Dhyan Chan National Hockey Stadium in New Delhi. For the sixteen teams, it is the culmination of a long journey, started two years ago with continental qualifications.
Six teams qualified through the Junior European Cup, won by Belgium ahead of the Netherlands, Germany, France, England and Spain. Malaysia won the Junior Asian Cup, ahead of Pakistan, India and Korea. Two teams qualified from the other junior continental competitions in Africa (South Africa and Egypt), Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) and America (Argentina and Canada).
Germany are the defending Junior World Cup champions, after winning the 2009 event held in Johor Baharu (Malaysia) & Singapore. They are the most successful team at the junior level, having won 5 times in 9 appearances, only finishing once off the podium. Germany enter the competition ranked #1 and will face European Champion Belgium, Egypt and Pakistan in Pool A.
To date, Belgium has had very modest results in Junior World Cup appearances, unable to place higher than 11th. Belgium hockey has however made huge strides forward in the last few years, both at senior and junior levels. The team will be led by Arthur van Doren, who already has over 30 international caps with the Belgium senior team.
Pakistan has traditionally had good results at the junior level, having won the event once and collecting 5 more podium finishes. Even though their last medal was twenty years ago (1933), they have been regular medal contenders and will count on a talented core of skilled players to bring back a good result from Delhi. Pakistan will be led by Umar Bhutta, who, at 20 years old, has already more than 80 senior caps to his name and represented his country at the Olympic Games in London.
Oceania Champions Australia and American Champions Argentina will face each other in Pool B, with France and Spain. Australia, bronze medalists 4 years ago and runner-ups 8 years ago, hope that 2013 will be their year to step on top of the podium. They are coached by former Kookaburra Paul Gaudoin and will count on prowess of penalty-corner specialist Cameron Joyce.
Argentina has a superb group of talented players, eager to emulate the generation of 2005 that conquered the junior title. They can certainly score goals, from the field or penalty corners. Defender Gonzalo Peillat represented his country at the London Olympic Games; he netted 15 times at the Junior Pan American Cup, and scored all 4 of Argentina’s goals in the final of the 2013 senior Pan American Cup against Canada.
France have only participated 3 times in the Junior World Cup, with their last appearance in 2001. Their young generation had an excellent competition at the Junior European Cup, only suffering an agonizing Golden Goal semi-final defeat at the hands of eventual tournament winners Belgium. About half the team are regulars on the senior French team. They will count on Hugo Genestet (the youngest of three brothers who all represent France), a supremely gifted player who is capable of creating goal-scoring opportunities out of nothing.
The Netherlands are the highest-ranked team in Pool C and will face home team India, Korea and Canada. Despite 9 participations, The Netherlands have only steppd on the podium 3 times, never on the highest step. They are however arriving in Delhi with a squad crammed full of wonderfully gifted individuals who have honed their skills by competing in one of the strongest national leagues in the world, the Hoofdklasse. The team features Glenn Schuurman, a member of the HC Bloemendaal team that claimed the Euro Hockey League title in 2013.
Home team India will of course be one of tournament favorites. The current group has an abundance of experience, with midfielders Kothajit Singh and team captain Manpreet Singh both being central figures on the India senior side. The team is now coached by former South African star Gregg Clark. They have fixed their sights firmly on the title and will be cheered by their adoring fans every step of the way.
Korea finished just behind Malaysia, Pakistan and India at the Junior Asia Cup, but can expected to be back at their usual best in Delhi.
Pool C is rounded up by Canada, returning on the junior world stage for the first time since 2001 thanks to an excellent performance at the junior Pan American Cup, where they challenged Argentina and only lost by a narrow, one-goal margin. The current squad has trained hard domestically, but might miss some crucial international exposure.
Asian Champions Malaysia are in Pool D with England, New Zealand and South Africa. The Malaysians will hope that this will be the year when they finally step on the podium, after 8 participations in the junior World Cup and a few narrow missed. They have an exceptionally gifted group and could be the good surprise of the competition.
New Zealand finished just outside of the medals in 2009 and are determined to climb on the podium this time around. The squad contains a good mix of international experience as well as some exciting newcomers, with senior national players Kane Russell, George Muir and Jared Panchia rounding out the core players within the group.
England is another team without a medal to show in their many appearances at the Junior World Cup. They had a relatively low-key performance at the Junior European Cup, but they have assembled a strong group, with some senior internationals. They are very fit and could surprise at the end of the competition.
Competition starts on Friday December 6, with all 16 teams in action on the two pitches of Major Dhyan Chand National Hockey Stadium in Delhi.
Matches played on pitch 1 will be streamed live on the FIH web site.
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