New Delhi: Indian hockey`s rising stars will be under immense pressure but they would aim to rise above it and make a positive start in the Junior Men`s World Cup when they take on a formidable Netherlands in their opening tie, here from Friday.
Any tournament at home soil brings with it a fair deal of expectations and for India, the 10th FIH Junior Men`s Hockey World Cup is no different as the country is hosting the global event from December 6 to 15 at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here.
The Manpreet Singh-led Indian outfit will be under pressure to at least repeat the podium finish their women counterparts achieved when they won a historic bronze at Mochengladbach, Germany earlier this year.
The Indian team and its chief coach Greg Clark are well aware of the significance of the opening Pool C match as it sets the tempo for the rest of the tournament.
The Indians would be eyeing at least a draw against Netherlands if not a win because they know very well that it is always difficult to make a comeback in a short four-team pool after a loss.
Going by the record book, India hold an edge over Netherlands as they won the junior World Cup once in 2001, and their next best finish came in 2005 when they lost the bronze-medal match to Spain to finish fourth.
Clark feels India have a very good chance of lifting the trophy after 12 years to delight the home fans.
"We`ve got a good chance. (But) We don`t want to put any pressure on ourselves; there`s enough of that playing a home tournament. I think the players and the management realise that if we do play according to our ability, we do give ourselves a very good chance," Clark said.
"Playing at home always puts pressure on the team. It`s a very expectant hockey public. But you can either let that pressure affect you negatively or you can use that as a positive. We need to rise to the occasion, and I`m really confident this team has the character to do that," Clark explained.
Expecting a tough first-up match against Netherlands, Clark said European teams will definitely act as an obstacle in front of India and the title.
"It`s very difficult to pick the toughest teams. There`s a whole bunch of teams that we haven`t really played recently. But the European sides will always be strong: Holland, Germany and Belgium, who are the current junior champions in Europe," he said.
"It`s going to be a really tough game (against Netherlands). Obviously, we are gonna put a lot of focus on achieving a positive result. But the good thing is that if we don`t get a positive result there, we`ll still have two games to rectify and finish in top two to make the quarter-finals," the South African coach insisted.
India have fielded a very talented bunch of youngsters for the tournament under Manpreet Singh`s leadership.
India boast of a strong forwardline in Mandeep Singh, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Malak Singh and Talwinder Singh, while skipper Manpreet himself will be in-charge of the midfield.
Having fielded three drag-flickers in Gurjinder Singh, vice-captain Amit Rohidas and Sukhmanjit Singh, penalty corners would be India`s another strong area.
India`s goal will be under the watchful eyes of Harjot Singh and Sushant Tirkey.
Netherlands, on the other hand, have never won the title, having finished runners-up twice -- way back in 1985 and in the last edition in 2009 when they lost 1-3 to holders Germany in the final.
But this time, the Dutchman would be desperate to write a new script in the history of junior hockey.
Netherlands coach Sjoerd Marijne has already challenged India, saying he was eyeing nothing less than a win in their opener.
"Our team is very tough and stable and we are geared up for the challenge. All the teams are strong and anyone can win a match on the given day. But the boys are confident about their first match against India and we aim to start this tour with a win," Marijne said.
The tournament schedule is set with four pools of four teams. Two from each pool will advance to the quarterfinals.
India are placed in Pool C along side the Netherlands, South Korea and Canada. Pool A will feature Germany, Pakistan, Belgium and Egypt. Australia, Spain, Argentina and France are competing in Pool B while England, New Zealand, South Africa and Malaysia will clash in Pool D.
Meanwhile in other matches of the day, Korea will play Canada (Pool C), Australia will face Argentina (Pool B), defending champions Germany will take on Belgium (Pool A), New Zealand will face Malaysia (Pool D), Spain will square up against France (Pool B), Pakistan will play Egypt (Pool A) and England will take on South Africa (Pool D).