French Ascension Baby Bleus bookend losses, Indian jr deficiencies

India’s campaign for the Junior World Cup ended as it started: head in hands, on their knees and jubilant French players dancing and celebrating around them.

When France beat India in the opener of the group stage, it was seen as the competition’s biggest surprise. But after winning the third-place playoffs on Sunday 3-1, that seemed like the most obvious result. What was not so obvious was the result of the final. It was mind-boggling, the way Argentina beat six-time Junior World Cup-winning Germany 4-2 in a final for the ages.

Both results mean a lot going forward, giving a glimpse of which teams might challenge those at the top of the stack.

After their senior team won gold at the Rio Olympics, Argentine hockey seems to have strayed a bit in recent years. But the current squad of players – coached by Lucas Rey, their Rio Olympics hero who now becomes their messiah – has raised hopes for a revival, in the same way that the 2016 junior title became a springboard for India in the future.

Compared to the final, the consolation match for third place at the World Cups is much maligned, often seen as a second-class event. Sometimes, however, it can also define tournaments. And Sunday’s game between India and France looked like this.

Foal of the Blues

France symbolizes all that is going well in international hockey, which at the moment seems so competitive that any of the top eight teams can beat the other on their day – and the Junior World Cup has shown it to be. will be so for a foreseeable time.

In 2013, when Les Bleus – to borrow the nickname associated with their football team, finished second behind Germany, it ushered in a new era for them. Many of these players have become the core of the senior squad, which made waves at the 2018 World Cup.

The money pumped into French hockey, instead of the Paris Olympics, meant their performance three years ago was not unique. France continued to beat their weight in Europe and recently secured a 2023 World Cup qualifier, making them rare back-to-back appearances for them in what is the biggest event on the hockey calendar after the Olympics.

The performance of their Under-21 team will give them hope that their ascent continues unabated.

France were by far the more dominant of the two teams in the third place game. They led the midfield, sliced ​​through the Indian defense with extreme ease and skill, and showed a lot of energy from the moment the anthems were played. It helped their cause that the defending champions never showed up for the game.

Timothee Clement – remember the name – scored a hat-trick from the penalty spot, bringing his total to 14 in the tournament, four behind Netherlands top scorer Miles Bukkens. A big part of France’s plan is to bring Clement into the game by rushing and winning penalty corners. And when they won them – more than a dozen on Sunday – Clément is always threatening with his power and his placement.

France’s third place also underlines the depth of European hockey. While the usual suspects have won all the important tournaments, teams like Wales – who have scripted a remarkable story to qualify for the 2023 World Cup and a slightly stagnant Ireland underline the strength of Europe.

A challenge from South America

From this perspective, Argentina’s triumph becomes significant.

Wins at the junior level don’t necessarily translate into senior success, but Sunday’s victory is a welcome boost for Argentine hockey. Los Leones, as they’re called, have been on a sort of downward spiral since winning gold at the Rio Olympics.

One of the reasons for this, according to their former senior captain and U-21 team coach Lucas Rey, was internal issues at the federation level. This has led to a constant cut and change of coaches, and some of their key players, including star drag-flicker Gonzalo Peillat, have fallen out of favor. It showed in their performances, with the team finishing in a poor seventh place at both the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.

Rey, an Argentinian legend, took it upon himself to revitalize their hockey. Under him, the team were surprisingly good, playing with an equal measure of creativity and cunning. Argentina will try to ensure a smooth transition of these players into the senior fold, hoping to make them a force again.

Argentina’s presence at the top will be crucial for world hockey, as Australia and India are the only two countries apart from themselves to consistently challenge European domination on the pitch.

Worrying signs for Asia

This brings us to Asia, where teams are falling behind the rest of the hockey world at an alarming rate.

One thing the Junior World Cup proved – if further proof was needed – was the downfall of South Korea and Pakistan, once a continental force but now a pale shadow of their pasts. While Pakistan, who have still shown some skills but are sorely lacking in physical form, will place their hopes on new foreign coach Siegfried Aikman, things are looking worrisome for South Korea, where hockey has rapidly declined in the country. list of priorities.

Malaysia continue to strike above their weight, as they showed with a draw against Belgium in the group stage. But the gap between India and the rest of Asia, even at a junior level, appears to be widening. This, despite the fact that they were one of the least prepared Indian teams of recent times.

India’s inexperience was evident throughout the competition, starting and ending with the matches against France. On Sunday, players were guilty of basic mistakes, including missed trapping, inability to grab the five-yard rule for overhead balls, and solo efforts instead of playing smart hockey, in particular inside the French “D”.

In all of their knockout matches – against Belgium in the quarter-finals, Germany in the semi-finals and France in the playoffs – India failed to take advantage of its greatest asset, the penalty corners. Imagine this: in those three matches, India could only get five penalty corners out of 58 circle penetrations while their opponents got 21 corners out of 76 entries inside the “D”.

Penalty corners – both defensive and offensive – were ultimately their downfall on Sunday, just like in the opener. India’s campaign ended the same way it started.

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