Mohith Shashikumar was an impenetrable presence under the bar when India recently clinched the Junior Asia Cup hockey title and now the young custodian has set his sights on achieving greater glory during the Junior World Cup scheduled in Malaysia in December, this year.
India beat Pakistan 2-1 in the final in Oman's Salalah and the Karnataka man made quite a few stunning saves against arch-rivals during the business end of the summit clash.
"It is a great feeling to win the Asia Cup and we are now officially the best team in Asia and it is a proud feeling. I am sure the world will sit up and take notice of us now," Mohith, who was adjudged the Best Goalkeeper in the Junior Asia Cup, told PTI.
"This is a confidence booster ahead of the (Junior) World Cup and we now want to play against European teams to expand our experience base," he added.
The Karnataka lad said getting an early qualification for the Junior World Cup will give Team India an advantage in terms of strategising in advance for the tournament.
"Of course. It (qualifying early for the WC) gives you a lot of time to prepare ahead of such a big event. We had already thought of playing in the World Cup because we knew we could qualify for the WC from the Asia Cup itself.
"But now, we have a lot of work to do and, in the coming days, we need to push ourselves to be at the top of our game. But before the WC, there are a couple of more tours and tournaments. So, we will take it one step at a time and try to do well in those matches," said Mohith.
India's junior side will tour Germany and Netherlands next month and Mohith said the trip will be an excellent opportunity for the team to study the tough European opponents.
"Last year, we had beaten Australia in the Sultan of Johor Cup in the shootout, so we have an idea about them and even the Asian teams. But we still have not played against the European teams that much and in July we are going to Germany and Holland to play against them.
"We can analyse their playing style and strategies there. I think it will be good preparation for the World Cup," Mohith said.
During the Junior Asia Cup, Mohith said the team adopted an aggressive style of play in the semifinal match against South Korea to send a strong message to Pakistan. India had outclassed South Korea 9-1 in the last four clash.
"We had beaten South Korea last year too by a big margin. But that match was in Odisha and the turf was different in Oman. Actually, it took us a couple of matches to get used to the turf but once we did it we knew we could challenge any team.
"Of course, the large margin (of win over South Korea) was a confidence booster for us but the performance also put a lot of pressure on Pakistan, our opposition in the final. So, our strategy to go with an all-out attacking game in the semi-final paid good dividends for us," said Mohith.
But was there any extra pressure on the team because the final was against Pakistan?
"We did not feel any pressure but rather we took it as a challenge. We had prepared well for the tournament and we knew if we executed our plans well we could win in the final. We were not approaching the match from an emotional angle.," he answered.
"Our coach told us to treat it as just another match. He told us that if we become emotional then we will make a lot of mistakes on the field. He told us to remain calm and focus on our plans, rather than on any outside noise.
"Overall, we were not really up to the mark in the final but the two early goals put pressure on Pakistan and we had a good first half. We wanted to dish out a much better performance but in the end winning the tournament was what mattered the most," he said.
Mohith said he has been in touch with India goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and the veteran's tips were of immense help to him.
"There was a good crowd in the stadium for our final against Pakistan and it was an experience to feel the full house. Now, we know what to expect in pressure matches like India vs Pakistan. Of course, winning the Best Goalkeeper award in the Asia Cup was a big motivation for me.
"I have been in touch with Sree bhai (Sreejesh) and he has given me a lot of tips and shared his match experiences with me. So, interacting with a goalkeeper like him has been a big boost for me."
While concluding, he dedicated his success to all the coaches who have mentored him this far.
"Of course, I dedicate this to all the coaches who have worked with me. Hopefully, I can make them all proud in the future as well," Mohith signed off.
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