A Player Perspective by Milan Singh
Two man down Luxembourg put up a tough fight in Albena, Bulgaria, playing in the “Eurohockey U-16 Championships II Boys” organized by the European Hockey Federation
Just one year ago, none of us would have dreamed that we would be playing field hockey over two thousand kilometers away from home, representing our country at the national level. Thanks to the hard work of our coach, Ignacio Gomez, and the support of the Federation, a team had been put together little over 10 months ago. Over that period of time, players were selected from different clubs, we trained together, arrangements were made and we were told that in 9 months time, we would be on our way to Albena, Bulgaria.
We knew that as a smaller country, it would not be easy facing larger countries such as Russia, Finland and Bulgaria. We trained hard, and had practice matches against the Hockey Club Luxembourg Adults, who had their own international club tournament in Malta this year ( Link to Malta Article ) and various other Dutch teams. We won our final practice match 17-3 ( Link to Test Match Article ) and we were feeling confident about how far we had come in such a short period of time.
In the weeks prior to their departure, not all updates were positive. There were some setbacks, 3 key players were unable to obtain a passport in time for the tournament. Teams of 10 were needed, but we left with only 8 players having permission to play. During the tournament, other teams would have enough players to rotate their whole squad after every attack. We however had just 2 field substitutes, opposed to the usual 4. Our two substitutes were better suited to fill an offensive role meaning defenders usually had to play the entirety of the match, while other teams rotated often. Luckily our fitness levels were high and we managed to match ever-rotating teams in stamina. After one game, we had a photo with our opponents. The coach asked “Is that sweat or did you guys pour water over yourselves?” Once I told him it was sweat, he said he noticed we had almost no substitutions and he was amazed that we could play without being substituted.
Our story was a heartbreaking upset, as we had played far better hockey than anyone had anticipated but one factor always seemed to be against us… luck. In our pool matches, the same story was repeated. We fight hard, control the match, take a narrow lead, and concede in the closing minutes of the game. We tied against Georgia and Slovenia after having a one goal lead on both prior to conceding tragically unfortunate goals. On day 2, we played Finland and thanks to goals from Leopold Abst we had a 2 goal lead in the first third and impressive authority of the ball. At the start of the second, we conceded but managed to come back strong with skillful attacks by Pavel Singh and Prem Jadadeesh. Midway through the final third, I was looking at the clock. “4:32”. The taste of our first victory was near. Not long after, with only a few minutes to go, our backboard thudded and our victory was falling out of our grasp. We kept our heads high and managed to combine well in attack, showing a positive response only to concede a thunderous backhand in the final thirty seconds. We now knew the bitter taste of defeat.
We knew, walking off that pitch that we were the strongest team in our pool, but that we somehow managed to finish dead last. It meant we had to face Russia. A country with 144 million people, opposed to Luxembourg's modest half million. 288 Times more inhabitants meant 288 times more players to choose from. We watched their matches and saw them destroy countries 20-2, countries with much larger populations than us. Nevertheless we rested, ate, recovered and readied ourselves for our hardest test yet. We had an objective and a match plan. We stuck by it and stopped the Russians from scoring in the first 5 minutes, something they had managed to easily achieve over each team before us. Saves from our goalkeeper, Louis Collignion, kept us alive. Coming back to our coaches after our first third, we knew we had shut out Russia better than any other team so far. But we also knew that we had “Damocles Sword” hanging over our head. We finished the match with a 5-1 defeat, but despite the scoreline, we took the match as a victory. The Russian coach and players had great respect for us as we did for them. The head coach had told us after the match that he was surprised we finished last in our pool. Saying we should be proud and we have been their toughest opponents as of yet. Russia played the gold medal match against Bulgaria and the lost 10-1, which is more than us. Though our top 4 hopes were crushed we had a reboot in moral and we were ready to go for our final day.
The team woke up at dawn, thirsty for revenge. Georgia was our first match. We walked on the pitch, knowing we were capable of beating Georgia, but still wary of their physical presence. The match finished 2-0 and all that was left was to see who we would play in our final match for 5th place. Finland emerged victorious over Armenia meaning once again we would face Finland. The desire for revenge was even stronger, after the poignant memories of the day before. We knew we could beat Finland as we outplayed them the last game, and just like before we had a two goal lead. We knew not to be over confident because of what happened the last time around, but yet again, the same mistake was made and three goals were pulled back at the end of the match as we watched in astonishment and agony. The rematch had been lost and the storyline was identical to the first.
In the end we achieved 6th place from 8, knowing it was a harsh reflection of our tournament but also that we completely surprised ourselves in various departments. However, we did not leave empty handed. Our goalkeeper, Louis Collignon, was awarded the best keeper of the tournament and player, Pavel Singh got votes from 3 countries for the best player award. We took all the positives and negatives from the tournament and we will continue to fix our errors in the training ground. We know that for our next tournament we will have all improved and that we have all our players. The Team is looking forward to our next tournament taking place in Croatia and we hope to deliver a better performance and an even better result.
If you are reading this as a person, unfamiliar with field hockey, come see what we're about! There will be a fun tournament on the 13th of July where you can see the game being played. The entrance is free and there is more than enough food and drinks. So come support us in Boy Konen, 279 Rue des Sports, 1321 Cessange.