PETALING JAYA: After a year of delay, the Junior Hockey World Cup will finally get off today at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India.
A total of 16 teams will be vying for the coveted title and India will be looking to defend the title they won five years ago when they beat Belgium 2-1 in the final.
As hosts and defending champions, India are the favourites. However, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic it could be an open affair as most teams are ill-prepared due to the restrictions caused by the virus.
But for players who have turned out in leagues and continental competitions, their country will have a slight advantage.
And in this case, Belgium, Germany, Spain and Holland will surely be challenging India for the trophy.
Germany won the EuroHockey Junior Championship in 2019 with a side that consisted of players who have now tasted Olympic hockey with the senior team.
Holland, Spain, Belgium and France finished third, fourth, fifth and sixth place respectively at the championship.
As for players to look out for, there’s plenty and among them are Thibeau Stockbroekx (Belgium), Benedickt Schwarzhaupt (Germany), Pepe Cunill (Spain) and Justen Blok (Holland).
These amazing talents have all featured in the FIH Hockey Pro League while 21-year-old midfielder Timothee Clement has already made 25 senior appearances for France.
The most decorated player in the competition is India’s captain and two-time FIH Rising Star of the Year, Vivek Prasad.
The midfielder has played 70 times for his country and was part of the team that won the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics recently.
Malaysia manager I. Vikneswaran said that apart from the above names mentioned, he is looking forward to seeing new stars shine in the tournament.
“If it was held last year, we would have seen players born in 1999 but since this is a Under-21 tournament only players born from the year 2000 can be selected, so the metrics have changed,” he said. “Malaysia had to drop talented eight players and it’s the same with other nations.
“For me, every opponent are strong and we should not take anyone for granted.
“Even the so-called weakest team can be a threat if we take them lightly.
“The Europeans are not the only one playing in the competitive Euro and Pro Leagues.
“Africans and South Americans are also plying their trade there. So the threat is from everywhere,” he added.
Malaysia, who will be the host in 2023, have competed in 10 of the 11 editions.
Their best outing was a fourth placing in 1979, 1982 and 2013.