'Nothing less than gold will do'

Hockey India

Ahead of India's final against Belgium at the junior hockey World Cup in Lucknow on Sunday, ESPN introduces three players who seem to have done enough during the tournament to merit consideration for selection to the senior team. Across defence, midfield and attack, Varun Kumar, Santa Singh and Armaan Qureshi have formed the spine of the team. They spoke to us before the tournament and here is their journey in their own words.

First influences

"There was nobody in my family who played hockey, but [India international and captain at the 2013 junior World Cup] Manpreet Singh and I are schoolmates. He began playing hockey before me and suggested I take up the sport. So, inspired by Manpreet, I began playing in Mithapur, my village." - Varun

"I started playing hockey because of the atmosphere in my village. [Indian midfielder] Sardar Singh also hails from there. One of my uncles was a very good hockey player and his son used to play hockey. He would often visit us, and one day I accompanied him to the ground and decided to start playing hockey. I've always followed Sardar, and that's the reason I play in midfield." - Santa

"My uncle Hasrat played for India, and he became my inspiration to start playing hockey. There used to be hockey camps in our school during summer vacations. That's where I started playing for the first time. I also played cricket and pursued it quite seriously for a while. Then one day, they laid a new AstroTurf pitch in Gwalior, where I live. After that I started playing hockey quite seriously." - Armaan

Best coaching advice

"When I started playing hockey, [former India captain] Pargat Singh gave me a lot of motivation. He would come to the ground and tell us about how to practise, what to eat. Whatever he learnt playing for India, he would pass on to the rest of us." - Varun

"The coach at my hostel [former India international and Sardar Singh's older brother Didar Singh] used to support me a lot. He always told me that in modern hockey you must always look up while playing. Training under Harendra Singh [head coach of the junior team] has also been good, because he varies it up all the time. This prevents it from getting monotonous." - Santa

"I went to the Madhya Pradesh Academy in 2007, and my coach there was [former Olympian and Dhyan Chand's son] Ashok Kumar. Then in 2013, I joined Air India, and my coach there was [former India captain] Dhanraj Pillay. I've been fortunate with the coaching I've had all these years. The one thing they've all taught me is that you cannot give up. If you aren't able to do something perfectly, then you must keep working at it till you achieve it." - Armaan

Key to success in hockey

"The most important attribute for a good defender is to have patience. You must know how to defend against an opposition forward and how to finish their moves. These qualities define a good defender." - Varun

"It is tough to play against the Europeans. They tend to play with a lot of physicality. But our team now is very good. We tend to play with good fitness levels. We've worked very hard on all major points." - Santa

"There are parallels between football and hockey, especially in attacking patterns. The one-to-one passes and the attacks from the outside are more or less the same. I like [Lionel] Messi because of how he plays and the confidence with which he plays. On our first two tours, I wore jersey No. 29, but then when it was announced that everybody could put forward their favoured numbers, I went for No. 10. He's not a player... he's a magician." - Armaan

Ultimate goal in hockey

"My biggest ambition in life is to always give my best when playing and to play at the Olympics one day." - Varun

"The junior World Cup is the main target for our entire group. Only after this can we think about what we want to achieve in life. The way that we've been performing at the junior level for the last couple of years, nothing less than gold will do." - Armaan