Lucknow, Dec 18, 2016: Home favourites India produced a clinical performance here on Sunday to outclass maiden finalists Belgium 2-1 and clinch their second Hockey Junior World Cup title after a 15-year-gap.
Gurjant Singh (eighth minute) and Simranjeet Singh (22nd) scored the two goals for India, who had won their previous Under-21 world title in 2001 in Hobart, Australia.
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With this win, India became only the second nation after Germany to win the Under-21 title more than once. Germany, who overpowered Australia 3-0 to secure the third spot on the podium, have won six titles.
With both the teams coming into the match unbeaten, the contest was expected to be an enticing competition between two bands of talented youngsters.
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And it were the hosts who looked to be the better side from the very beginning. Urged on by a vociferous crowd in Major Dhyan Chand Stadium, India got off to an emphatic start.
Varun Kumar’s long aerial ball in the Belgian circle forced Belgian goalkeeper Loic van Doren to come out but he couldn’t fully palm the ball away with Gurjant lurking near him. The Indian took the ball to the left, dodging past van Doren before employing a ripping back-hand strike from a very tight angle that hit the top corner of the far post, giving the hosts the early advantage.
India’s midfield, led by Harjeet Singh, did a fine job of restricting and breaking the flow of the Belgian game.
One such fine example turned into the second goal for India as link-man Santa Singh caught short an opposition counter-attack few metres ahead of the half-line before making a cross-field pass to his left. Nilakanta Sharma fed Simranjeet at the top of the circle and the latter delivered a clinical finish, giving no chance to van Doren, to make it 2-0.
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Towards the end of the first half, Belgium had their moments but couldn’t make their chances count as India defended as a team. The Belgians even earned a penalty corner but they couldn’t trouble Indian custodian Vikas Dahiya.
Trailing 0-2, Belgium tried their best to turn things around in the second half but India’s superiority in one-on-one duels helped them keep things under control and hold their 2-0 lead.
Moreover, India’s balancing act in defending the two-goal advantage and pushing for the third goal was just perfect and captain Harjeet deserved all the credit for controlling the tempo of the game.
Gurjant had the chance to make it 3-0 when he won a battle with Martin Lambeau just five metres ahead of the Belgian circle. Gurjant faced a one-on-one situation against goalkeeper van Doren but the latter managed to keep the Indian at bay.
Later, India got two penalty corners to put an end to Belgium’s challenge in the match but penalty corner exponents Varun Kumar and Harmanpreet Singh couldn’t make them count.
Belgium, in their pursuit of pulling one back, kept fighting and eventually it came, with barely 22 seconds left on the clock. With the hooter already being blown, the penalty corner was the last shot of the game and van Bockrijck was successful in his job. But they couldn’t celebrate the goal, as the match ended, triggering huge celebrations in the Indian camp.
After the win, a delighted India captain Harjeet said that their success boils down to their long and arduous preparation they did for the last couple of years.
“It is a great victory and we deserved it. We had been preparing for the tournament very dedicatedly since the last couple of years. We have improved a lot tournament-by-tournament,” centre-half Harjeet said after the match.
“We stuck together as a group despite the difficulties and it has helped us. We played good hockey throughout the tournament and we got good support from the Lucknow crowd who supported us in good numbers here,” the senior Indian international added.
Meanwhile, in the bronze medal match, Timm Herzbruch inspired Germany to a 3-0 victory over Australia, with the 19-year-old attacker scoring twice for his side. Argentina were the winners of the 5/6 Place play-off, recording a 2-1 victory over Spain.
The Netherlands were comfortable winners of the 7/8 Place play-off contest, defeating England 6-2.
In the formal individual awards ceremony, Spain’s exceptional captain Enrique Gonzalez de Castijon was named as the Uttar Pradesh Best Player of the Tournament, while brilliant Belgian shot-stopper van Doren was given the Goalkeeper of the Tournament award.
Edward Horler of England took the HERO Top Scorer of the Tournament award thanks to an eight-goal haul. (IANS)