Sunday, December 18, 2016
Start time 6 pm local (1230 GMT)
Belgium's run to the junior World Cup final this year should come as no surprise to those who have followed the country's progress in recent years. A runners-up finish for the senior team at the Olympics in 2016 was the culmination of a few impressive performances at global events in recent years, and has elevated the nation's world ranking to fifth, at the expense of India. In Lucknow, the characteristic Belgian tenacity was amply in evidence right from the group stages, where they came back from a half-time deficit to beat Netherlands 3-2. Two successful shootouts against Argentina and two-time defending champions Germany now see Belgium in their first ever appearance in the final at their sixth junior World Cup.
The team standing in their way are hosts India, who have been in red-hot form since the start of the junior World Cup. India beat Belgium and Germany at the Four Nations Invitational in Valencia, Spain earlier this year to claim the title, and that confidence has been amply in evidence through this campaign as well. With senior international players like goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya, defender Harmanpreet Singh, captain and midfielder Harjeet Singh and striker Mandeep Singh bringing their experience to the fore, India have found a way to get out of tricky situations in matches against South Africa in the league stages, and Spain and Australia in the knockouts. The only cause for concern is a poor rate of conversion from penalty corners, and that will be something they must correct against a team that is always well-organised in defence.
Form guide (most recent first)
In the spotlight
The bedrock of the Belgian team is defence, but then they will need penetration upfront and that could come from striker Gregory Stockbroekx, who has only contributed one goal in the 3-0 win over Malaysia in the group stages, thus far. Belgium lost to India in Valencia, but Stockbroekx finished as joint top scorer for the event, also playing a significant role in Hannover where Belgium won a Four Nations event ahead of Germany, Netherlands and Pakistan.
Big matches are won by players with big-game temperament, and nobody in the Indian side fits that bill better than Mandeep Singh. The star of the show of the first Hockey India League back in 2013, Mandeep has been a regular for the Indian senior setup, with 23 goals in 61 caps, and an appearance at the senior World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Champions Trophy against his name. Mandeep is also the joint top-scorer for India -- who have had eight different scorers for their 15 goals in Lucknow -- with penalty-corner specialist Harmanpreet, his three field goals having complemented the latter's.
Stats and trivia
Belgium have had the best defensive record at this junior World Cup, conceding only three goals in their five matches thus far.
Getting goals shouldn't be a problem for India, if their past junior World Cup finals are anything to go by - India have eight goals in two matches, including six in the 2001 final, which included a Deepak Thakur hat-trick.
Belgium eliminated Germany in the semi-finals via shootout, and it has meant the first time since 2005 that Germany will not feature in the junior World Cup. In fact, it will be just the fourth final in eleven editions without Germany in the final match.
India's joint top scorers are Mandeep Singh and Harmanpreet Singh, with three goals apiece. At least one of them has scored in each match for India, and both scored together against Canada in a 4-0 win in their opening match.
For Belgium Henri Raes, Quentin van Lierde and Thomas Verhaijen have been the top scorers with two goals each. None of them has scored in the knockouts, though, where Belgium's only goal came from Victor Wegnez, to equalise against Argentina in the 69th minute.
Stats courtesy: BG Joshi