FIH Hockey Women’s Junior World Cup excitement mounts as teams start descending on Potchefstroom

Excitement is mounting as teams participating in the FIH Hockey Women’s Junior World Cup South Africa 2021 have started arriving at Potchefstroom the  new hockey destination for the past couple of months.

Indian team is the latest to arrive there. There have been teams, including Canada, who were in Potchefstroom in December last year before the event was postponed to the present dates because of Corona pandemic. 

This will be Indian juniors  first international outing since the Chile tour in 2021, where it remained unbeaten.

Before leaving for South Africa, Indian Captain Salima Tete said, “The long wait finally ends for us. We are absolutely excited to take part in the Junior World Cup. We got a good time to prepare ourselves, we trained with the senior team and I think it will really help us in doing well in the competition. We are really looking forward to this challenge and our aim is to finish on the podium.”

Grouped in Pool D, India will begin its campaign on April 2 when it takes on Wales. Its second match will be against Germany on  April 3, followed by its last pool  game against Malaysia on April 5.

Talking about the team’s preparedness, Salima said, “Several players like Akshata Abaso Dhekale, Deepika, Sangita Kumari, Bichu Devi Kharibam and Ishika Chaudhary had recently made their senior team debuts at the FIH Hockey Pro League 2021/22, so we are pretty much in a good frame of mind. We are in good shape and confident of doing well. We even got a chance to play practice matches with the senior team, so the training and preparations have been really good. We are motivated, and will certainly give our best to finish on the podium.”

The 16  participating teams are  studded with Olympians and players that have already seen top class action through the FIH Hockey Pro League and other international events. World Cup is the platform that brings up  new stars on the international hockey horizon. It was back in 1997 that an unknown junior called Luciana Aymar led Argentina to a Junior World Cup bronze medal – we all know how that story unfolded. Today’s crop of Las Leoncitas will be hoping to retain the gold medal that the 2016 squad won in Santiago, Chile.

There have been changes in the line-up for this event. Japan withdrew at the last moment and its place was taken by Malaysia. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) decided to keep Russia out of the event.

The absence of Australia and New Zealand will be felt during the 12-day event starting on April 1.

For teams such as Netherlands, Germany and Korea, the Women’s Junior World Cup has been a traditional hunting ground for medals. These three teams among them have won 12 medals, and all three will want to  add to their tallies. 

For Germany, players such as Pauline Heinz and Jette Fleschütz will be bringing a huge amount of experience of top flight hockey, having already experienced Olympic and FIH Hockey Pro League action. In addition, the German U21 squad played two senior FIH Hockey Pro League matches against India, gaining a wealth of experience in the process.

Also on the hunt for medals will be  India. Having observed the rapid rise of its senior team through the rankings, and the adulation to which the squad returned on the back of an Olympic fourth place finish, it will want to take advantage of the momentum surrounding women’s hockey in the country right now. 

At the other end of the experience continuum are teams such as Ireland and Uruguay who will be experiencing their first ever foray into Women’s Junior World Cup territory. Ireland’s athletes are already bringing a sense of joy to the show, with their revelation that the team managers included pool-based flamingo racing   as part of its early morning warm-up routines.

And then there is the emotion that will be so very present at this event. For South Africa, this is the momentous occasion when they hold the continent’s first ever FIH World Cup event. For Canada, this is the place where they were caught in limbo for a while in December as a result of pandemic movement restrictions – they will be looking for a happy return to Potchefstroom.

Other than India, players of Indian origin will be playing for Canada and Malaysia. Gurdip Kirandeep, with 26 international caps to her credit, will represent Malaysia while Ishaval Sekhon and Harnoor Malhi will don Canadian colours.

And, of course, there is the potential presence of Ukraine. When the blue and yellow clad team line up for the opening match of the tournament against Ireland, there is unlikely to be a dry eye at the pitch.