The move began with a steal
A few meters inside Malaysia’s half of the field, Beauty Dungdung snatched the ball, passed it on to her teammate Baljeet Kaur and initiated a sprint down the left flank. Baljeet calmly played a through ball in the direction of Sharmila Devi, who was unmarked near the 25-yard line in the middle of the pitch.
Without looking right up, Sharmila moved the ball to the left, believing that by that time Beauty would have already brushed the Malaysian defenders aside and be ready to receive the pass. The beauty controlled Sharmila’s pass on the run and – again without looking up – crossed the ball for the first time towards the far post, where Mumtaz Khan appeared and deflected the ball past the goalkeeper.
The passage of the game during their last group game match in the Junior World Cup, which perhaps lasted less than 20 seconds, summed up everything about this U21 group: trained so well that the players know each other’s positions via intuition, ability to move the ball around with precision and pace , the sublime ball control and the speed at which they attack.
But more than anything else, their willingness is – quite simply – to have fun every time they step on the turf. For a bunch that has been together for five years, endured life in biobubbles and shared the disappointment of having their World Cup postponed, it’s the only way they’ve known to play and practice.
On social media, Bichu Kharibam and Suman Thoudam routinely kill it with their smooth wheels; at training camps they are not pale to make a prank with their teammates; dance choreography has become an essential part of their routine, which may explain the well-coordinated moves they have shown during their march to Sunday’s semi-final, where they will face the Netherlands, who are now the best candidates for the title after Argentina suffered a shocked defeat. in Germany.
“We have a good bond on the junior team. We enjoy a lot together,” said vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary. If we win, we have fun. If we lose, we still find ways to enjoy and support each other. It’s just the way the environment is. “We are in our party. We know what everyone likes and what we can use to tease each other.”
The shift in players’ body language is remarkable given that women’s teams of the past were often criticized for being fearful and scared, resulting in them playing a cagey, defensive hockey style. However, not this bunch. The team, coached by Eric Wonink and captain of Salima Tete, plays with freedom and profit, which are usually associated with youth. And also a lot of confidence that draws inspiration from the groundbreaking results achieved by the senior team that finished in fourth place at the Olympics in Tokyo.
It’s not always fun. Ahead of the quarter-final against South Korea, which India won 3-0 on Friday, Ishika provided an insight into how grueling their training can become. “Our workouts are divided into colors – there are hard workouts (red), moderate (orange) and green, which take place after hard workouts for recovery,” she said.
The concept is not new. The Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, who managed the dugout at the Olympics, introduced the color-coded sessions on the women’s team, and Wonink, Marijne’s former assistant, brought the idea to the junior side.
A few weeks ago, Indian senior captain Savita Punia had explained the importance of these color-coded sessions: the green sessions, she had said, had relatively light workouts where they practiced penalty-kick corner and shoot-out drills along with some training work; the orange session is a little more elaborate but low intensity compared to the red session which can drain every ounce of energy from the body.
During a red session there are 3v3, 5v5, 8v8 and sometimes even 11v11 exercises. The track is divided into three stations; when a player completes her exercise at one station, she must immediately move to the next without taking a break. Each week there are three to four red sessions, two orange and two or three green sessions.
The junior team has trained together with the seniors and has more or less followed a similar schedule. The sharing of ideas between the senior and junior players has improved the under-21 team individually and as a unit, Tete said.
“We managed to make a few more combinations, which was convenient. Players like Beauty (Dung Dung) did not know how to play in some defined structures so we could practice on it and prepare,” said Tete.
The seniors, who have improved drastically over the past few years, shared tips on the art of pushing, moving the ball and keeping ball possession. “It also improved our speed and confidence,” adds Ishika.
Each of these aspects will prove crucial against the Netherlands on Saturday. In 2013, the only second time India reached the semi-finals of the Junior World Cup, when they eventually won bronze, they were beaten by the Netherlands 3-0 in the final four-stage.
The Dutch became champions then and are favorites even now. They have so far been the most dominant side of the junior WC and scored on average more than 10 goals per game. fight without closing once. Amazingly, they have scored almost a third of the total goals in the tournament – 43 out of 137 – and the tournament’s two best goalkeepers are both Dutch – Jip Dicke (12) and Luna Fokke (10).
It will undoubtedly be the toughest test for India so far, but it will also be a challenge for the Netherlands, who so far have only played the minnows from international hockey – USA, Zimbabwe, Canada and South Africa. Still, this will be a rigorous test for the Indian defense to withstand the pressure from the heady Dutch attackers and a challenge for the Indian attackers to score past a defense that has not conceded a goal so far.
Whatever the outcome, one thing looks certain: When they step on the turf, these players will not carry any luggage, only a bunch of young people out there having fun.
Jr. World Cup semifinals: India vs Holland, at. 17.00, live on: Watch hockey and Fancode
2: Number of times India have reached the semi-finals of the Women’s Junior Hockey World Cup. The only second time they reached the final four-stage was in 2013, when they otherwise lost to the Netherlands 3-0.
43: Number of goals the Netherlands have scored in the four matches they have played so far, most of all teams. In fact, they have scored nearly a third of the total goals scored in the Junior World Cup so far.