Junior Hockey World Cup: India need all-round performance against excellent Germany

India face Belgium in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Junior Hockey World Cup. Hockey India

They might have beaten one of the pre-tournament favourites in Belgium but things won't get much easier for India against Germany in the semifinal of the 2021 Junior Hockey World Cup on Friday. Although India put together their finest defensive performance against Belgium, they would feel they need to put together an all-round performance if they are to make a second successive junior World Cup final past a team that has earned a reputation of excellence in age-group hockey -- as 6 World Cup gold medals would suggest - and one that's shown plenty of grit of its own.

Switch to attack

Although India were eventual winners against Belgium, the team ended up defending for most of the match, and created far fewer scoring opportunities than their opponents. It's true that India's defenders earned praise from none other than Germany coach Valentin Altenberg. "We have huge respect for (India's) defensive skills against a structured Belgium team. They were able to keep goal clean for 60 minutes," he said. But it's also accurate that while India made the most of the one clear chance they got, they wouldn't want to leave things to chance. India it seemed had got caught in an uncharacteristic rut of defense against Belgium and coach Graham Reid has promised the side will go in to their clash with Germany looking to push the pace a lot harder. "We hope to play with a little bit more energy and tone. We got a little bit defensive against Belgium and it was not our objective. So, we will try to play attacking hockey tomorrow, try to penetrate and score. That's the name of the game," Reid said prior to the match.

German defence

This will perhaps be even harder for Reid's team to pull off against Germany than it was against Belgium. In their quarterfinal clash against Spain, another team that likes to play free flowing hockey, Germany had employed a tight man marking system that shut down their opponents and restricted them to their fewest goals of the tournament. If the same tight marking is carried out against India, the midfield, led by Olympic bronze medalist Vivek Prasad, will find it a tough ask to send aggressive through balls to the forward line. Making things harder still is the fact that Germany don't normally play a high press game. India's field goals have mostly come off counter attacks, which would be harder to pull off with most of Germany's team stationed behind the half way line. "We need to keep focus on our defense first," said Altenburg.

Penalty corner conversions

Even if India's strikers can't get shots onto goal, they've never kept it a secret that they will look to find the foot of a defender in the shooting circle. Once India's drag flickers come into play, India fancy their chances of scoring either through direct hits or variations like the one Sharda Nand Tiwari took to score against Belgium. And India say they aren't done just yet. "We have more tricks," Indian captain Prasad said after the win against Belgium. Germany know this as well. "We have looked into penalty corners and we respect what India can do," says Altenburg. His strategy is simple and one that worked against Spain, a side who also enjoyed great success with the penalty corner in the league phase. "The best way to defend penalty corners is to avoide conceding them. We will try to keep them outside the circle as much as possible. But if we concede a lot we have to face the fact that they will convert a lot of them because they are so strong," Altenburg said

Handling pressure

If Germany will count on a defensive approach to do the trick, India will be looking to pull off a complete game of hockey for the first time in the tournament. Over four matches thus far, India has found success in different areas of the field but the team hasn't clicked together. While their counter-attacking shone through even in the loss to France, their interception and defending failed.

Against Belgium, their defence held up even while their forwards seemed to spend too much time on the ball, perhaps, as Reid reckoned, due to nervousness or in an effort to find a Belgian foot rather than take the shot. In the semifinal against Germany, India will hope to find success in all areas of the field.

What will also matter is which team can hold their nerve the longest. Both sides have shown plenty of gumption. India defended a 1-0 lead even while their goal was peppered with shots. Germany too recovered after Spain scored in the penultimate minute of the match to find an equalizer with just about a minute to go. Indian coach Reid expects a similarly tough battle on Friday. "Germany are known for scoring late goals. They have done it historically with the senior group. It is in their DNA. They never give up, they keep moving the ball and they keep playing with the same intensity," Reid said.