Junior Hockey World Cup: Basic errors undermine India as they collapse in face of German assault

Uttam Singh scored India's first goal against Germany in the semifinal of the 2021 FIH Junior Hockey World Cup. Hockey India

India's hopes of retaining the Junior Hockey World Cup title they won in 2016 might have officially ended when the referee blew the whistle after 60 minutes of their semifinal with the score reading 4-2 in favour of Germany. In truth, that dream already been all but extinguished after a four goal first half blitz by their opponents. While the hosts eventually recovered their composure somewhat and even 'won' the second half of the contest, the first thirty minutes of the match will end up being a major learning point for the squad in the years to come.

Tale of two halves

India came into the semifinal after overcoming Belgium, considered one of the toughest sides in the tournament. In contrast, Germany needed a last minute goal to eke out a win over Spain. What appeared to be a close semifinal going in, turned into a blowout in the first half. When the whistle sounded for the break, Germany had run the Indian defence ragged and piled up a 4-1 lead.

They had 10 shots on target compared to 2 by the Indians. They had made 16 circle penetrations to just five by India and dominated possession. The Germans could very well have scored more - amongst their misses was Max Seigburg botching the simplest of tap-ins into an empty goalmouth in the fourth minute.

India were taken aback by the intensity of the assault. For the remainder of the match it was the Indians trying to fight their way back into it. While they didn't quite succeed, they managed at least to bring about some kind of parity. In the second half, the Indians held the edge in terms of goals scored (1-0), shots on goal (2-1), and circle penetrations (11 to 8). "We didn't put our best foot forward in the first and second quarter. I think we had a better second half but it's very hard to get back from 4-1 down. That part was very disappointing," Indian coach Graham Reid would say after the match.


What worked for the Germans in a lopsided first half was that they were unlike any side India had played until this point. In their previous match against Belgium, against whom India had their best defensive performance of the tournament, the Indians had been able to match the zonal defence played by their opponents. Germany though, man marked relentlessly. There was almost never a moment where an Indian player seemed to find a bit of space.

There was clearly a physical advantage the Germans enjoyed and they made the most of it - bullying the Indians off the ball, pressuring them into making mistakes and ensuring they got in front of the Indian forwards. With India having played no competitive matches over the last couple of years, they probably had no idea how to deal with this challenge. This size disadvantage isn't something new however - all Indian teams, including the seniors, have dealt with it previously.

Forced mistakes

While there was pressure from the Germans and even nerves, owing to the fact that they were competing in the semifinal stage of a World Cup, the Indian players didn't help their cause by making basic errors. Balls were not trapped and more than a few turnovers were conceded. In none of their matches at this World Cup have the Indians put together a complete performance. That was the case on Friday' too.

They gave too much space to the German attackers - Aton Flatten ran into Indian circle in the 33rd minute and was almost surprised at the time he got due to the lack of marking. Luckily for India he only pushed a soft pass that wasn't converted. In the final quarter India had a great chance to pull a goal back but Manjeet didn't even manage to connect with his stick.

"If we start look at today's match, Germany did everything we needed to. They tackled well, in groups and showed intensity. These were all things we were trying to do but they went ahead and did it. From an attacking perspective we created opportunities but they weren't good ones," Reid would say after the match. "We missed out on the basics. Against a side this good, your basics - trapping, tacking and getting in front of the ball have to be flawless. Ours could have been better," he said.

Learning experience

While India will not be able to retain their World Cup title, it might be an acceptable tradeoff if this experience proves to be a learning opportunity for the side as they make their way into the senior ranks. The challenge of playing against physically stronger opponents will mean that strength and conditioning, an area the senior team has improved exponentially in, has to be something the youngsters work on as well.

"When you look back at these sort of games, you will see this is as a turning point. A lot of players will get a lot out of it. The players who improve the most are the ones who learn. We can use this as a very good learning opportunity. We will be looking at the video (of this match) to understand the level we need to be at it," Reid said.