With the Men’s Hockey World Cup set to commence at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, Odisha from 28 November, there is a definite sense of optimism among the Indian hockey fans this time round.
India, long considered a hockey powerhouse, has under-performed at the World Championships for a long time now. They have won the Hockey World Cup only once, way back in 1975 when they defeated arch-rivals Pakistan 2-1 in Malaysia. However, after that victory, India’s performance has continued to slip over the years.
India’s best performance at the Hockey World Cup in the last twenty years has been a lowly 8th position in 2010, that too when they were hosting the event in Delhi! In the last edition in the Netherlands, they finished at the 9th position.
Though some attribute India’s poor performance in the last few decades to transition from grass to turf, that argument no longer holds good. India has played enough on the turf to have that as an excuse. There are enough turf surfaces in India, including at the majestic Kalinga stadium for the Indian team to practice and prepare for big events.
Despite India’s underwhelming record in the world championships, there is definitely cause for hope this time around. Going for gold may still be an extremely difficult proposition for this team, but a podium finish is certainly a very realistic possibility.
India has a balanced team, with a great mixture of youth and experience. The team under coach Harendra Singh may have faltered at the Asian Games, but it came back strongly at the Asian Hockey Championships.
They are by far the best team in Asia, and is on an upswing, which is reflected both in terms of its ranking as well as its record against arch-rivals Pakistan against whom it has not lost a single match in over two years!
The team is ranked world number 5 and has performed well at the big stages. They may not have been able to win the biggest tournaments but have performed well in tournaments such as the Champions trophy where they have finished runner-up to Australia in the last two editions. Their performance in the 2018 edition was quite outstanding, where they lost the final by a whisker.
The preparation for the big event has gone on smoothly. They have been practising in Bhubaneswar for some time now to get acclimatised with the condition. Their 5-0 demolition act over the Olympic Champions Argentina in the warm-up game showed how well-oiled a machine this team is right now.
India should target at topping their group to qualify directly for the Quarter Finals. They should be able to get past world number 11 Canada and world number 15 South Africa quite easily. However, they should target to pump in as many goals as possible in these two matches, so that even if they manage a draw against world number 3 Belgium, they could finish top of the group due to a better goal difference.
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The whole nation expects India to do well this time, and for the first time in a very long time, the expectation is a realistic one.