BHUBANESWAR: The stage is set in Odisha's Temple City as the 16 participating teams prepare to battle it out for top honours at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021, which is scheduled to begin on 24 November.
All four teams in their respective pools will be aiming to finish in the top half of their pool, as the top two teams from each pool will qualify for the quarter final of the tournament.
In Pool A, European heavyweights Belgium will face off against Malaysia, Chile and South Africa.
Defending Champions India are placed in Group B, along with Canada, France, and Poland, who all arrived to Bhubaneswar to battle it out for the title in the past week.
"India will be, of course, a force to watch playing at home with the qualities they have," Belgium coach Jeroen Baart said on arrival.
Speaking on the prospect of playing at the iconic Kalinga Stadium, Malaysia head coach Wallace Tan expressed, "Our team is very excited to play at the Kalinga Stadium as it is a very big and respected stadium. Many big tournaments have been held here, and many legends have played here, so it will be an honour to play here."
The India Colts, led by captain Vivek Sagar Prasad, will be looking to retain the prestigious trophy as they take centre stage on their home turf. "Our team became the Champions in 2016 and now our team's aim is to continue to perform in a similar manner," Vivek, who was part of India's historic Bronze-medal winning performance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, said.
"While we did not have overseas competition, the teams played some practice games against the senior team in Bhubaneswar, which were quite valuable. Since arriving in Bhubaneswar, we have been getting used to the stadium. The Kalinga Hockey Stadium is truly iconic. It's good that we are getting to train here before we start," India Men Chief Coach Graham Reid added on the team's preparations.
Netherlands, Spain, Korea and USA will lock horns in Pool C.
"We have never played in such a big stadium. It's a shame people cannot come and watch the games. We are very excited to play here in the Kalinga Stadium," Netherlands captain Silas Lageman added.
USA head coach Pat Harris spoke on the hockey culture in India after reaching Bhubaneswar. "To the world, India has a very strong hockey culture with a big hockey stadium. This competition will be a great stepping stone for us in our process of developing hockey further," he said.
Team Spain arrived on Sunday, and the head coach Alejandro Siri said that he believes it will be an open tournament with no team as the favourites as of now to win the title. "I think there is no candidate who are favourites as all teams are new and well-prepared. We have to look during the tournament which team is going well and which team is struggling. It is an open tournament, and we have to perform well in every game," he said.
"Our players do not have much experience of playing in such a big stadium, just like most players from all teams, but we are confident we will get better as the tournament progresses," Korea Captain Soung Min Bae said.
Pool D will see Germany, Pakistan, Egypt and Argentina face off against each other.
Pakistan head coach Danish Kaleem praised the Odisha state government for working towards increasing the popularity of hockey across nations. "I am very happy with the work done by Odisha state government and the Hon’ble Chief Minister Shri Naveen Patnaik for the work that they have done in promoting hockey all over the world. We are excited to compete in the tournament as it will help in increasing the popularity of the sport," he said.
Belgium will play against South Africa in the first game of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021 on 24 November. India will begin their campaign on the same day against France at 20.00 hrs IST.
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