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16 Teams Join Jr Hockey WC

Bhubaneswar: The stage is all set in Bhubaneswar as the 16 participating teams prepare to battle it out for top honours at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021, have arrived in the Temple City.

The mega sporting event is scheduled to begin on November 24 and continue till December 5. Both the Sports and Youth Services Department of State Government and Hockey India made all necessary arrangements for the event.

All four teams in their respective pools will be aiming to finish in the top half of their pool, as the top two teams from each pool will qualify for the Quarter Final of the tournament.

In Pool A, European heavyweights Belgium will face off against Malaysia, Chile and South Africa.  “India will be, of course, a force to watch playing at home with the qualities they have,” Belgium Coach Jeroen Baart said on arrival.

Speaking on the prospect of playing at the iconic Kalinga Stadium, Malaysia Head Coach Wallace Tan expressed, “Our team is very excited to play at the Kalinga Stadium as it is a very big and respected stadium. Many big tournaments have been held here, and many legends have played here, so it will be an honour to play here.”

South Africa Head Coach Sihle Ntuli picked Belgium to be toughest team in the group stage. “In our group, we have Malaysia, Belgium and Chile. I would think Belgium would be our toughest opponent. They are previous finalists, so we know it will be a difficult game. But we also think all the games will be difficult,” he said.

Chile Captain Nicolás Abujatum said, “We were a part of the Pan-American Championship, which was a big part of our preparations. We are excited to play at Kalinga Stadium, as most of us have not played in such a great stadium.”

Defending Champions India are placed in Group B, along with Canada, France, and Poland, who all arrived in Bhubaneswar to battle it out for the title in the past week.

The India Colts, led by captain Vivek Sagar Prasad, will be looking to retain the prestigious trophy as they take centre stage on their home turf. “Our team became the Champions in 2016 and now our team’s aim is to continue to perform in a similar manner,” Vivek, who was part of India’s historic Bronze-medal winning performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, said.

“While we did not have overseas competition, the teams played some practice games against the senior team in Bhubaneswar, which were quite valuable. Since arriving in Bhubaneswar, we have been getting used to the stadium. The Kalinga Hockey Stadium is truly iconic. It’s good that we are getting to train here before we start,” India Men Chief Coach Graham Reid added on the team’s preparations.

“Our preparation for the event was not very long. The weather in Poland is completely different, it is very cold, especially in winters. But we tried to do the best we could do, and I think we will play our best hockey here,” Poland Head Coach Jacek Adrian said.

“We are really excited, we are looking forward to play in the Mecca for hockey in the world, and the stadium is really impressive. So, we are looking forward to getting a few games in there,” Canada Captain Christopher Tardif added.

“This is the biggest competition for our young players. The entire world will be here, with different styles of playing. Every young hockey players dream to make it and as the Head Coach, I wish, with my staff, to have the best team possible to represent our country,” France Head Coach Aymeric Bergamo said.

Netherlands, Spain, Korea and USA will lock horns in Pool C.

“We have never played in such a big stadium. It’s a shame people cannot come and watch the games. We are very excited to play here in the Kalinga Stadium,” Netherlands Captain Silas Lageman added.

USA Head Coach Pat Harris spoke on the hockey culture in India after reaching Bhubaneswar. “To the world, India has a very strong hockey culture with a big hockey stadium. This competition will be a great stepping stone for us in our process of developing hockey further,” he said.

Team Spain arrived on Sunday, and the head coach Alejandro Siri said that he believes it will be an open tournament with no team as the favourites as of now to win the title. “I think there is no candidate who are favourite as all teams are new and well-prepared. We have to look during the tournament which team is going well and which team is struggling. It is an open tournament, and we have to perform well in every game,” he said.

“Our players do not have much experience of playing in such a big stadium, just like most players from all teams, but we are confident we will get better as the tournament progresses,” Korea Captain Soung Min Bae said. 

Pool D will see Germany, Pakistan, Egypt and Argentina face off against each other.

“We are extremely excited to come and play here in Bhubaneswar in such a big stadium. Kalinga Stadium is one of the finest hockey stadiums in the world,” Valentin Altenburg, Germany Head Coach said.

Pakistan Head Coach Danish Kaleem praised the Odisha State Government for working towards increasing the popularity of hockey across nations. “I am very happy with the work done by the Odisha State Government and the Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik for the work that they have done in promoting hockey all over the world. We are excited to compete in the tournament as it will help in increasing the popularity of the sport,” he said.

“It was a bit difficult for us to prepare for this tournament due to the long period of inactivity, but we will be counting on our experience at the Youth Olympics to come in handy for us at this big stage,” said Argentina Head Coach Lucas Rey.

Belgium will play against South Africa in the first game of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021 on November 24. India will begin their campaign on the same day against France at 8 PM.