Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India], November 18 (ANI): The Indian Junior Men's Hockey Team forward Araijeet Singh Hundal believes his side has a strong chance to earn a podium finish at the upcoming FIH Hockey Men's Junior World Cup 2023 which is set to take place between December 5, 2023 and December 16, 2023 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Araijeet will serve as captain Uttam Singh's deputy for the tournament which will see a total of 16 teams competing for the prestigious trophy. India is placed in Pool C alongside Canada, Korea and Spain, and will begin their campaign against Korea on 5th December 2023. The defending Champions Argentina along with Australia, Chile, and Malaysia form Pool A. Egypt, France, Germany, and South Africa have been placed in Pool B, while Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Pakistan have been grouped together in Pool D, as per a press release from Hockey India. Speaking ahead of the tournament, Araijeet said, "We have prepared well as a team at the camp and have focused on several key areas, of our game. Now the tournament is approaching fast, and all the players and the support staff are becoming even more determined to ensure we deliver a good performance. We are working on important technical areas where we can improve and our aim is to finish with a medal." Araijeet is among the seven players in the 18-man Indian squad for the tournament, which also represented India at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021 along with Uttam Singh, Boby Singh Dhami, Sudeep Chirmako, Vishnukant Singh, Sunil Jojo, and Sharda Nand Tiwari. India had gone down 1-3 against France in the 3rd/4th place match to finish fourth in the tournament. Arajieet says that he has learned a lot over the past couple of years, and the team is feeling confident ahead of the upcoming tournament. "Since the previous Junior World Cup, we have learned that we should not take any team lightly and we must give 100 per cent against all teams. We have to keep pushing ourselves till the final whistle. We have learned over the past couple of years how to handle pressure on the big stage. We have played 3-4 major tournaments which have really given a boost to our confidence. We have also seen how other teams play and about the slight adjustments and tweaks that we can make in our game to improve our chances in a match. Our fitness levels have also improved and we have grown a lot as a team," Araijeet said. "Also, the young players who will be playing their first Junior World Cup are also constantly taking advice from us. We are helping them in any way we can. We are also trying to guide them on how to deal with pressure," he further added. Araijeet, who is from Amritsar, Punjab, developed an interest in hockey at a young age after watching his father play. "Everyone in my family played hockey, including my grandfather, father, and uncles. My father used to go to games, and as a kid, I would accompany him. From then on, my interest grew. My father had a dream to represent India, and now I am carrying forward this dream for him," he said. Araijeet began playing hockey professionally around 8 years ago and in 2016, he received a chance to play his first Junior Nationals for PunjabSind Bank. After a string of consistent performances for his side, Araijeet received a call for the Junior Men's National Camp in 2019, but the pandemic caused a halt to his dreams of representing India for a year. "During the lockdown, our coaches shared programs so that we can continue to train and maintain our fitness at home. We followed it for several months before we were called back to SAI. At SAI, we were again placed under a strict bubble. We had to maintain all necessary Covid protocols to train," Araijeet recalled. In 2021, Araijeet finally made his debut for the Indian Junior Men's Hockey Team at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Junior World Cup Bhubaneswar 2021 where he scored 5 goals in 6 games. Since then, Araijeet has earned 22 caps for the team and has scored 17 goals. He also competed in the Senior Nationals at the domestic level in 2021 and 2022, and along with the sport, he is also pursuing his studies. "I have had several highlights during my career in such a short time. But winning the Junior Men's Asia Cup Trophy, after beating Pakistan 2-1 in a closely-contested Final has been the best moment of my career so far. I also scored a crucial goal in the match, which was a memorable moment for me," he said. "Now we hope to repeat a similar performance in Kuala Lumpur. We will look to minimise our errors and capitalise on our strengths in the tournament. We are all ready to roar and make the nation proud by winning a medal at the FIH Hockey Men's Junior World Cup 2023," Araijeet signed off. (ANI)