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India face their toughest test yet in Junior Hockey World Cup

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The Salima Tete-led Indian side play Netherlands, the most successful team in the tournament, in their Junior Women's World Cup semi-final on Sunday.



Indian players in action during Junior Hockey WC.(Hockey India)



In women’s hockey, facing the best in the world is one thing, facing Netherlands is another. They are the gold standard in the sport. Olympics, World Cup, Champions Trophy, EuroHockey Nations Championship, Pro League, the world No 1 Dutch are the reigning champions in all major events; the undisputed queens of the sport.

The status is no different at the junior level with Netherlands being the most successful team at the FIH Hockey Junior Women’s World Cup with three crowns. Out of the nine editions held till date, they have made the semi-finals eight times, also reaching the finals the last three times, winning twice.

The Salima Tete-led Indian team will have to play out of their skins to beat the benchmark in the sport in Sunday’s semi-final at Potchefstroom and earn their place in the summit clash on Tuesday.

India have had a dream run so far, having won all their matches—including against former champions Germany and South Korea—to reach the last four. But now they face their toughest test.

“We came into this tournament with great determination to win every match we play. As a team, we know we will be able to achieve results if we focus on ourselves, execute the plans we have for our opponents. For tomorrow’s match too, we will be more focused on what we can do as a team,” said Tete.

Like India, the Netherlands are unbeaten in the tournament, topping Pool A with three wins against the United States, Zimbabwe, and Canada. They then hammered hosts South Africa 5-0 in the quarter-finals to qualify for their seventh straight semi-finals. They are the only side to not even concede a goal in the tournament.

Members of the junior Dutch team also play in domestic club competitions regularly against some of the best players in the world, something that India coach Erik Wonink, who also hails from Netherlands, is well aware of.

But given their run of form, the Wonink-coached outfit is confident they will be able to deliver against the mighty Dutch. “The exposure we have gained in these past years will be important when we play a team like Netherlands who are extremely good. There will not be any room for mistakes and it’s great that most of the players got an opportunity to play for the senior side in the Hockey Pro League so they are now better equipped to handle pressure in tense situations,” added Tete, who was part of the Indian team at the Tokyo Olympics.

India will be counting on the experience of players gained during the Pro League as well as the practice test matches against the senior team in national camps.

“We have taken full advantage of these opportunities to motivate ourselves and be ready. We are really looking forward to this challenge and our aim is to finish on the podium,” said Tete. “We are pretty much in a good frame of mind. We are in good shape and confident of doing well. We 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.”

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