Armed With Home Advantage, India Look to End 43-year Hockey World Cup Itch
(Image: Hockey India)
India’s hockey record in the Olympics makes for wonderful reading, but the same cannot be said of their showings at the Hockey World Cup. Their only time atop the podium at the World Cup came in 1975 when Ajit Pal Singh and his men won a hard-fought final against arch-rivals Pakistan.
India’s hockey record in the Olympics makes for wonderful reading, but the same cannot be said of their showings at the Hockey World Cup.
Their only time atop the podium at the World Cup came in 1975 when Ajit Pal Singh and his men won a hard-fought final against arch-rivals Pakistan.
Given that the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar is hosting the 2018 Hockey World Cup, Indian fans will at least be quietly optimistic about their chances of a podium finish.
However, the Indian men’s hockey team has struggled at the tournament since lifting the trophy 43 years ago and have since then failed to even make the semi-finals of the tournament.
In the last 10 editions since its maiden triumph in 1975, India’s best performance was a fifth-place finish at the 1992 edition in Mumbai.
Now ranked fifth in the world, Indians would be eager to recreate the magic by at least reaching the semi-finals. But the road ahead won’t be easy.
Besides having to go up against powerhouses like two-time and defending champions Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, Olympic champions Argentina and a resurgent Belgium, India will fight both home fan expectations and history.
The last time India played a World Cup at home, in 2010 in New Delhi they finished a lowly eighth and going by records, the host nation has never fared well in the tournament.
Coach Harendra Singh guided the junior Indian team to the World Cup title in Lucknow two years ago and will be hopeful of achieving something similar this time around.
His credentials were questions after India failed to defend their Asian Games title in Jakarta earlier this year and another failure in this tournament will see his job under the scanner once again.
The Indian team for the World Cup is a mixture of youth and experience with seven of the 18 featuring in the last World Cup. The squad also has youthful exuberance in 19-year-old striker Dilpreet Singh and debutant Hardik Singh.
But two notable absentees from the squad are dragflicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who has been dropped and striker SV Sunil, who is unfit.
In the 16-nation tournament India are placed alongside South Africa, Belgium and Canada in their group.
Barring world no 3 Belgium, India are expected to win hands down against world no 15 South Africa and world no 11 Canada.
The match against Belgium is India’s big test in the pool stages and a win against the Red Lions is a must for the hosts to avoid the cross-overs and qualify directly for the quarterfinals.
After South Africa, India’s opponents are Belgium on December 2 and Canada on December 8.
It is only the second World Cup after 2002 to feature 16 teams. From four pools of four teams each, the toppers will directly qualify for the quarterfinals while the second- and third-placed sides will have to play four cross-over matches to earn their places in the last-eight round.
Just like all big-ticket hockey events, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany will once again start favourites to lift the title.
The Kookaburras, in fact, will be vying to create history by becoming the first team to win the trophy for the third time in a row.
Goalkeepers: PR Sreejesh, Krishna Bahadur Pathak.
Defenders: Harmanpreet Singh, Birendra Lakra, Varun Kumar, Kothajit Singh Khadangbam, Surender Kumar, Amit Rohidas.
Midfielders: Manpreet Singh (capt), Chinglensana Singh Kangujam (vice-capt), Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh, Sumit.
Forwards: Akashdeep Singh, Mandeep Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Lalit Kumar Upadhyay, Simranjeet Singh.
(With PTI inputs)