It wouldn’t have been possible without the presence of three Olympians, an attacking forward line, and a fine goalkeeper in Bichu Devi Karibam.
Having already issued a warning going into the knockout stage of the FIH event, India will take on Korea in the quarterfinals on Friday.
India, who have appeared in four editions of the junior global event, claimed their best finish in 2013, with a bronze medal.
Despite failing to qualify for the previous edition, the Indians are considered among the top five contenders to lift the title in South Africa.
They are a confident lot following the senior team’s historic fourth-place finish in the Tokyo Olympics, besides the constant improvement in all aspects of the game in the last few years.
India is one team which boasts of three Olympians in skipper Salima Tete, strikers Lalremsiami and Sharmila Devi, and the trio’s experience of playing at the highest level has benefited the side in the pool stages.
Salima has been a livewire in the midfield and has dazzled with her brilliant stick work, while Sharmila’s defence splitting runs and Lalremsiami’s poaching presence inside the opposition circle have worked wonders for the team.
Lalremsiami has scored two goals in the three matches, with her agile presence inside the circle.
“It’s quite a good opportunity for us also that they (Olympians) are sharing their experience with us. They played in Tokyo and it’s a great achievement, so it has been quite helpful for us. They are always there to support and help us with their experience on and off the field,” India vice-captain Ishika Chaudhary said.
Germany, one of the favourites, found it difficult to match the Indian players’ fitness levels and their fast-paced hockey, resulting in a 1-2 defeat.
Placed in Pool D, India finished on top with an all-win record, which includes a 5-1 win over Wales, a 2-1 upset of Germany and a 4-0 thrashing of Malaysia.
In all the matches, India’s midfield and forwardline shone bright.
The star of India’s forwardline has been young Mumtaz Khan, who has so far scored five goals, including a hat-trick against Malaysia. Her alertness and anticipation inside the circle is a treat to watch.
Mizoram’s young forward Lalrindiki, a Cristiano Ronaldo fan, too played a key role in India’s success, with goals and plenty of assists.
Having said that, it is the performance of the backline led by goalkeeper Bichu Devi that has stood out the most.
Bichu Devi, who recently made her senior team debut in the FIH Pro League, has been phenomenal in front of the Indian goal, making brilliant saves on numerous occasions, which earned her praise from the skipper.
“Bichu is a very good keeper,” quipped Salima.
Bichu is an energetic character and is known for her celebrations after every save.
“I don’t know where it comes from. I have never thought about it or checked my celebrations in videos after the match but I guess I get the energy from inside. It’s all about passion from within to perform for the team and win the title,” Bichu said.
Speed and deft stick work while on quick runs have been Indian hockey’s strengths since time immemorial, and an improved fitness level has made the team look much better.
Eyeing a maiden title, it won’t be easy though for India, with defending champions Argentina, formidable Netherlands and Germany looking to spoil India’s party in the coming days.