Junior Hockey World Cup: India face Canada in campaign opener (Preview)

Lucknow, Dec 7 (IANS) India will be aiming to give their campaign a winning start when they take on minnows Canada in their first match of the 11th FIH Junior Hockey World Cup which starts here on Thursday.

The Indians will go into the tournament in a confident frame of mind following a successful campaign at the four-nation invitational tournament in Valencia, Spain in October. They had defeated formidable Germany 5-2 in the final of that tournament which also included European powerhouses Belgium and Spain.

Coached by Harendra Singh, the hosts are in a relatively easier Pool D which also includes England and South Africa.

With the likes of captain Harjeet Singh, striker Mandeep Singh, defender and drag-flicker Harmanpreet Singh and goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya having represented the senior national team and most of their players having rubbed shoulders with some of the best in the world in the Hockey India League (HIL), the Indians are considered to be among the favourites for the title.

India will play their second pool match against England on December 10 and will take on South Africa in their last pool game two days later.

The tournament features a total of 16 teams.

Defending champions Germany, who have won the last two editions, are placed in Pool C alongside Japan, New Zealand and Spain. The Germans had won the last edition in 2013 New Delhi and will hope to do well on Indian soil this time as well.

Another strong title-contenders Australia are in Pool A with former champions Argentina, Austria and South Korea. The Netherlands and Belgium are the strongest teams in Group B which also includes Egypt and Malaysia.

The tournament was affected by controversy even before the start when the International Hockey Federation (FIH) barred Pakistan from the event. The FIH has asserted that the Pakistan Hockey Federation (PHF) had applied late for visas and had not provided necessary confirmations to the world body within the stipulated deadline.

In other matches scheduled on the opening day of the tournament, New Zealand will play Japan, Germany will take on Spain while England will face South Africa.