Defending championsstarted their campaign in the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup on a disastrous note, going down 4-5 to lowly-ranked France on the opening day of the tournament at the Kalinga Stadium here.
It was a poor performance by the hosts as they took time to settle down, did not show good coordination in the attack, and allowed France the leeway to capitalise on counterattacks. But for goalkeeper Prashant Chauhan, who affected at least five good saves, India could have lost the match by a bigger margin.
The Indians did create several attacks and forward Uttam Singh looked dangerous whenever he got into the French half but on a lot of occasions, the Indian forwards were indecisive in the final third and were dispossessed easily. France defended stoutly and their goalkeeper Guillaume de Vaucelles was brilliant as he pulled off at least seven good saves to deny the Indians.
France skipper Timothy Clement scored a hattrick in the 1st, 23rd, and 32nd minutes while Benjamin Marque and Corentin Sellier scored a goal apiece as France scripted a memorable win. He was adjudged Player of the Match for his brilliant performance.
For India, vice-captain Sanjay also scored a hattrick, converting penalty corners in 15th, 57th, and 58th minutes after Uttam Singh had opened the scoring for the hosts in the 10th minute with a superb goal.
The Indians now need to pull up their socks in the remaining matches if they have to qualify for the quarterfinals and maintain their hopes of defending the title they won in 2016 at Lucknow.
France were clearly not intimidated by the reputation of the hosts and defending champions, and were 2-0 up within seven minutes. They are ranked 25th and were playing against a team that is ranked 5th in the junior rankings. But undaunted, France launched an attack just after pushback and skipper Timothee Clement capitalised on a good attack to score a field goal, slotting home a reverse hit off a rebound after Indian goalkeeper Prashant had made a good save.
The Indians made a couple of good attacks but were thwarted by the strong French defence but France were 2-0 ahead after Benjamin Marque scored another field goal.
Graham Reid’s side did manage to get their bearings and levelled the scores in the first quarter itself, their second goal coming just at the stroke of the end of the first quarter.
Uttam Singh scored a superb goal after a penalty corner was saved, making it 1-2 for India off a second rebound.
India made it 2-2 when vice-captain Sanjay capitalised on a penalty corner as he blasted one flick past the French goalkeeper to make it 2-2.
But all hopes of the Indians taking charge of the match after levelling the score did not materialise and France defended superbly and used the counterattacks well to not take the lead again but also managed to keep the Indian attackers at bay, not allowing them to create penalty corners.
Clement scored the third goal for France in the 23rd minute (3-2) when he capitalised on a penalty corner. The Indians, especially Uttam Singh, Manjeet, and Yashdeep Siwach launched a number of attacks but failed to capitalise on a single one.
Clemens again scored in the third quarter to make it 4-2 for France and the writing was on the wall for India as Corentin Sellier made it 5-2 when he scored off another counter-attack.
India scored two goals through penalty corner conversions by vice-captain Sanjay but that proved too little and too late as the hosts and defending champions lost 4-5, starting their campaign on a poor note.