Junior hockey 2001 WC winners Rasquinha, Halappa, Prabhjot hope for repeat
Viren Rasquinha remembers how the Indian junior hockey team came back after being down in the dumps in two games, against top opponents The Netherlands and Germany in the 2001 World Cup in Hobart.
Members of the Indian team which won the Junior Hockey World Cup in Hobart, Tasmania, 12 years ago are hoping the current squad, gearing up for the upcoming edition in Delhi in December, emulates their feat.
"The biggest plus point of our team was our excellent team work and team spirit, which is very important in a long tournament like the World Cup. We never gave up even in the face of adversity, just hung on," said ex-India skipper Viren Rasquinha, who was a member of the 2001 Cup-winning team.
"The current team is very good and is training and preparing well. Gregg Clark (junior national coach) knows modern day hockey very well and he has got very good support in the form of Baljit Saini," the former half back said.
Rasquinha, who was honoured in Mumbai on Thursday along with six other members of the 2001 squad by the Mumbai Hockey Association Ltd, remembered how the team came back, after being down in the dumps in two games, against top opponents - The Netherlands and Germany.
India came back from 2-3 down in the last five minutes to edge past Holland in what was a virtual quarter-final and then defeated a very strong German outfit, which later went on to win the senior World Cup, 3-2 in the semi-finals.
In the final, India outclassed Argentina 6-1 to create history. Rasquinha pointed out that 13 members of that squad went on to play for the senior India team. Rasquinha recalled the cold, damp and windy conditions in Tasmania that the team had to battle against.
His former teammate Arjun Halappa (in pic), who is a selector for the senior outfit and is still an active player for Air India, sounded sad that while Indian sports fans still remember the cricket team's 1983 World Cup triumph, their achievement is largely forgotten.
"We never expected to win. In the quarter-finals we were down 2-3 and scored two goals in the last five minutes and won. Then we defeated Germany 3-2 in the semis. Our victory raised the profile of hockey in the country. We started getting money from the government and Sahara came on board as the team sponsor," Halappa recalled.
Another member of the 2001 squad, ebullient frontliner Prabhjot Singh, who still plays for Indian Oil Corporation, said the current team should not look too far ahead and take it step by step, while pointing out the home advantage. "The home conditions should be a big help," Prabhjot said.
The international said one advantage the 2001 team possessed was that most players were from Punjab and they were playing together from 1998.
Former India goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan also pointed out the advantage of playing at home. Saying the current team was certainly good, Chauhan maintained the performance would depend on how strong the opposition was.
"When we played in 2001, Germany was a very strong team and was expected to win the title. It was a very tough semi-final match that we won," Prabhjot said.