FIH Hockey World League Final 2017: Do India stand to win the HWL Final?
Brimming with fresh talent, ideas and a new coach, the Men in Blue will take on the world’s best in Odisha.
The FIH Hockey World League (HWL) is an opportunity like no other for Indian hockey. It’s an opportunity for senior players to make their comeback, and for youngsters to prove themselves worthy. It is also an opportunity for the country to be taken seriously ahead of the upcoming World Cup.
A regional powerhouse, India asserted itself once more in the Asia Cup despite challenges from South Korea and Malaysia. This time, things will be different. Held in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, the HWL will see eight of the best hockey playing nations gathered in one spot.
The third and final edition of the tournament, this will be an ideal platform for India to make themselves seen as a threat in the months to come. As the World Cup looms ever closer, a lot seems to hang in the balance for a new coach and a young team have a lot to prove. That leads us to the question – do they actually stand a chance?
Joining the hockey elite
With solid performances in the Asia Cup and the Europe Tour, the Men in Blue have been showing steady improvement, well enough to not be taken lightly by some of the best teams in the world.
However, a tough group stage matchup will see them wading into the thick of things from the onset of the tournament. If they do manage to acquit themselves well, it will be a clear announcement of their ambitions to take a place amongst the hockey elite.
A proving ground for coach
Coach Sjoerd Marijne will play a key role in the development and performance of the team. India’s newest hockey coach is more focused on motivating and fine-tuning the player’s habits than making any major changes to the side.
So far, he has gotten off to a good start, guiding the team to Gold in the Asia Cup. However, expectations grow far steeper in the long run, with the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and next year’s World Cup approaching. This tournament will be a real test for him on the international arena.
Riding high or buckling under the pressure?
After clinching the Junior World Cup, several youngsters were almost immediately included in the senior team. This holds special significance as an achievement of those dimensions can have these young guns riding high on confidence with the impossible seeming ordinary. On the flip side, the pressure of their new elevation will be immense as they surge to cement their spots in the team. With the seniors present to add depth to the side, and a good combination of talents amongst the players, this squad holds a lot of promise but it might be too soon to say.
While India has traditionally possessed superior dribbling skills, the sheer physicality of the top hockey teams is a daunting prospect. The Kookaburras, in particular, are aggressive side. Playing at the world level will push the new team to their limits.
With two European powerhouses. England and Germany, in Pool B alongside 2nd ranked Australia, India will be in a tough spot. Their very first match on December 1 will be against title holders and World champions Australia. Something that is not encouraging is their rather poor record against the Kookaburras in the past few years, with losses in the Champions Trophy, Azlan Shah and Commonwealth Games.
Pool A is nothing to shrug off either, with Olympic champions Argentina waiting in the wings with Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.
It’s not going to be easy. It might not even happen. But it is a step in the right direction. The Indian squad we see today is young, dynamic and full of the passion they badly need. If they approach the tournament the right way, the players will gain invaluable experience and self-belief for the long, hard road ahead. That, in itself, is a win worth more than its weight in gold.