Mumbai, Nov 12 (IANS) Very rarely does one get a second chance to play in an age-group World Cup. India’s Vivek Sagar Prasad, who missed the opportunity to play in the 2016 edition of the Men’s Junior World Cup due to an injury, will be leading the team at the 2021 edition at Bhubaneswar starting on November 24.
In 2016, the Indian team had gone on to win the Junior World Cup and thus Prasad missed the chance to be part of that triumph. Though this is a totally different team that he is leading, and the preparations have been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic, both Prasad and men’s team chief coach Graham Reid, who is overseeing the junior boys preparations as the high-performance director, felt that team has in it to defend the title.
Prasad, who is born at Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, was one of the youngest players at 16 eligible to play in the Junior World Cup but was not selected due to an injury. In January 2018, he made his debut for the senior national team at 17 years, 10 months, and 22 days, becoming the second-youngest player ever to represent India.
Five years and an Olympic bronze medal later, Vivek Sagar Prasad is still 21 and eligible for a shot at the title and will be leading India as the senior-most player.
However, the role is not new for Prasad as he has led India in the past and is looking forward to realigning with his old teammates at Bhubaneswar.
“This is not a new role for me as I have led the junior team in the past. Yes, my role will be a bit different having been part of the senior team. But every player has a specific role in the team and they are aware of that. On my part I will like to inculcate the principles of ‘team first, togetherness and trust’ that I have followed with the senior team,” said Prasad.
Prasad, who was in 2019 named winner of the FIH Rising Player of the Year and recently bagged the FIH Young Player of the Year for 2020/2021, said though his team may be touted as the favourite, they will be taking things match by match.
“We are not looking too far ahead and will be taking things match by match. Topping our group and reaching the quarterfinals is the first target,” he told a virtual press meet organised by Hockey India on Friday.
The 21-year-old midfielder, who has played a key role in the Indian team winning an Olympic medal after a gap of four decades, said playing in front of the home crowd would have helped the team.
“I have played in Bhubaneswar earlier and we have seen some of the biggest crowds at the Kalinga Stadium. It does motivate the players and though the crowd will not be there, I am hoping that the fans will watch our games on TV and support us online,” he added.
Prasad said the junior players have learned a lot by playing against and interacting with the senior men’s team before the Olympics. The junior team will play some more matches against the senior team in Bhubaneswar in the run-up to the FIH Hockey Odisha Men’s Junior World Cup and he along with coach Reid hoped that that would be good preparation for the event starting on November 24.