October 00, 2001

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Rousing welcome for jr hockey team

Our Correspondent

Thousands of frenzied fans thronged Delhi's domestic airport to greet the junior hockey World Cup-winning team which returned from Australia on Tuesday morning.

The team, led by Gagan Ajit Singh, beat Argentina 6-1 in the final of the seventh edition of the tournament to give India its first major hockey title in two decades.

The reception evoked memories of the welcome Indian teams received after triumphs in the 1975 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur and the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Rajinder SinghTeam coach Rajinder Singh said, "Aggressive hockey was the key to our success."

He, however, admitted he had not anticipated the 6-1 victory margin in the final.

"After the 2-2 draw in the second round, we thought it would be a tough match. Before the match, I thought the scoreline would be 3-2 in our favour, but I was not expecting to win by a five-goal margin."

The Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning full-back, who was also the highest scorer in the 1982 World Cup in Bombay, took the opportunity to laud Indian Hockey Federation chief K P S Gill's efforts to provide the team more international exposure.

"It has resulted in the junior team's fine performance," he said, adding, "I can confidently say there is much hope for the game and the IHF must capitalise on this."

To a suggestion by a news person that he should take over the senior team now that he has struck a good rapport with the juniors, Rajinder shot back: "See Cedric D'Souza is the chief coach and we will work together. In fact, most of these boys have been under him and C R Kumar [the team's assistant coach at the just-concluded World Cup] for quite sometime now and that's why we are seeing the results. I will give my inputs on the team and together we will try and build a strong team for the senior World Cup."

Gagan Ajit Singh Saying all the boys responded to the challenge as a team, Rajinder praised Gagan Ajit for his fine captaincy and said Deepak Thakur, Bimal Lakra, Prabhjot Singh, Jugraj Singh and Ignace Tirkey hold much promise for the future.

Team captain Gagan Ajit Singh echoed Rajinder's views that aggressive hockey helped win title.

Saying the team "peaked at the right time", Gagan Ajit felt the draw against Argentina in the second round and the defeat against Australia in the next match was "a wake-up call".

"I think losing to Australia 1-2 in the league stage was some sort of a wake-up call for us," he said.

What was his feeling after India were two goals up in the final?

"We started off well and got two early goals but they put pressure on us in the second half with a goal. At that stage I thought we had a tough fight coming. However, we counter-attacked and converted the chances we got to win handsomely in the end," he said.

Deepak Thakur Deepak Thakur, the highest scorer of the tournament with 10 goals, was rather modest in his moment of glory. "True, I got the goals, but I want to say it was a team effort that brought us success," he said.

He dismissed talk that some countries had purely junior players who were playing their first international tournament.

"That's wrong. Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, and most of the teams, had at least five or six players who had represented their senior team at some time or the other," he said.

Complete Coverage: 7th Junior Men's World Cup 2001

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