Men's Hockey World Cup 2018: 5 favourites to win the title

Can the Odisha crowd inspire the hosts to win the title?
Can the Odisha crowd inspire the hosts to win the title?

Forty-seven years and thirteen editions of the Men's World Cup Hockey tournament have witnessed five nations emerging triumphant - will there be a new champion at Bhubaneswar?

The Women's World Cup at London did not produce a new champion - favourites, the Netherlands did claim the title but not before several fancied teams fell by the wayside, and a few others rose from relative obscurity to announce their arrival on the big stage.

Several intriguing possibilities lie in store when the action unfolds at Bhubaneswar where strangely enough, three of the five former titleholders find themselves drawn together in the same pool.

Indeed, the prospects in Pool D appear to be poised rather tantalizingly, and four-time titleholders Pakistan will consider themselves fortunate if they are to make it to the knockout stages ahead of three-time champions Holland and two-time winners Germany.

The Men in Green who were one of the most dominant sides in the history of the competition have failed to make the semifinal stages since winning gold in 1994 while neighbours India will aim to make it to the last-four stage after a gap of 43 years since they last stood atop the podium in 1975.

Three-time winners Australia will, no doubt, aim to equal Pakistan's record, but which other teams stand a chance of halting the Kookaburras in their tracks?

It was Carlos Retegui, who spearheaded the Argentine men's team to a bronze in the 2014 World Cup, and gold at Rio 2016.

Chapa also guided the Los Leones to a silver in the Hockey World League Finals at Bhubaneswar last December, but Argentina have fared badly without their master coach, finishing third in the Azlan Shah Cup and fourth in the Champions Trophy and current coach, German Orozco has big shoes to fill.

So, which are the five sides aside from the struggling Olympic champions who will hope to corner glory at Odisha?

#5 India

Indian hockey fans will fervently cheer the hosts on, and an encouraging show at the Champions Trophy, at Breda, has raised hopes - but can the fifth-ranked Indians make it all the way to the top?

Sportskeeda checked with Siegfried Aikman, coach of the Japanese side who won gold at Tokyo, as his charges faced the Indians thrice in the space of the last three months, and this is what the FIH master coach had to say.

"India could be that team if they manage to control their nerves and enjoy the support of the home crowd."

Heightened expectations following a stellar show at Breda seemed to boomerang on the Indians following a shock defeat in the semifinals of the Asian Games, and many experts caution that it would be unrealistic to expect too much even though the overall graph points to an upward trend.

Yet, buoyed by the vociferous home crowd and some incredible talent in the ranks, the Indians are perfectly capable of creating history at home.

#4 Germany

The Germans will be hoping for a better outing at Bhubaneswar this time around
The Germans will be hoping for a better outing at Bhubaneswar this time around

The Germans have, rather surprisingly, slipped to the sixth position as far the FIH World Rankings are concerned but the Olympic bronze medalists are still a force to reckon with if only they manage to acclimatise to local conditions better than they did last December.

At the Hockey World League Finals, at Bhubaneswar last year, seven German players fell ill in the latter stages of the tournament. Stefan Kermas' side lost the semifinals to long-time rivals Australia and had no players on the bench for the bronze-medal match.

Despite the massive setback, eleven German players displayed remarkable resilience to make the Indians sweat it out before losing by a narrow 1-2 margin.

Prior to the Rio Olympics, the Germans were, for the most part, perched in the third position, behind Australia and Holland in the world rankings.

At Rio, the Germans remained unbeaten in the pool stages, finishing ahead of Holland, Argentina, and India, and tamed New Zealand in the quarterfinals, before being sunk by a Peillat hattrick which saw the Argentinians proceed to the final.

The German camp has made elaborate arrangements for their Bhubaneswar sojourn, in order to avoid a repeat of the HWL fiasco and will be keen to make it all they to the podium following a trial by fire in the World Cup's toughest pool.

#3 Netherlands

The Dutch have van der Weeden back - can the drag-flicker win it for Holland?
The Dutch have van der Weeden back - can the drag-flicker win it for Holland?

The Dutch seemed within striking distance of winning the title at the final edition of the Champions Trophy, but Jeroen Hertzberger's late goal against the Indians was disallowed, in a match that was a virtual semi-final, as a result of which the hosts had to settle for bronze.

While the women's side has asserted their dominance repeatedly and emphatically, in recent times, the men have been unable to strike gold in a major tournament since the 2006 Champions Trophy, and have not captured the World Cup since winning the title at home in 1998.

Paul Van Ass' side came close to repeating the feat four years back by making it to the World Cup final at the Hague, but a brutal PC hattrick from Chris Ciriello resulted in an ignominious 1-6 thrashing at the hands of Ric Charlesworth's Australians.

While the master Aussie drag-flicker is now with the Indian camp as Analytical Coach, the Dutch do have the ammunition to match Ciriello's firepower, as Mink van der Weeden (who missed the Champions Trophy on account of an injury) is now back, and perfectly capable of winning matches on his own.

#2 Belgium

The Red Lions have it in them to challenge Australia
The Red Lions have it in them to challenge Australia

It all began 11 years back, during a EuroHockey Nations Cup encounter in Manchester. Up for grabs was a ticket to Beijing 2008 and the Germans who were at their peak having won two successive World Cups in 2002 and 2006 were facing a relatively amateurish Belgian outfit.

With the scoreline level at 3-3, Jerome Truyens scored for the Red Lions in the very last second of the match and the entire Belgium team and their supporters in the crowd exulted en masse. The Belgians had qualified for the Olympics after a gap of 32 years and thus started a spectacular and dizzying march upwards.

Under the tutelage of Shane McLeod, the Red Lions won the silver medal at the Rio Olympics and are currently the third best team in the world.

Phenomenally talented and experienced individuals like John-John Dohmen, Arthur van Doren, Gauthier Boccard, Florent van Aubel, Loick Luypaert, Cedric Charlier, and Tom Boon along with Vicent Vanasch in goal have combined to form an incredible unit, and few would be surprised if Thomas Briels leads his side to their first-ever World Cup title.

#1 Australia

The indomitable Aussies will be the team to beat
The indomitable Aussies will be the team to beat

Has there been a hockey tournament in conscious memory where the Kookaburras have not begun as the favourites - or joint-favourites at the very least?

Australia's Olympic hoodoo seems to defy logic - the world's most feared hockey team has, quite inexplicably, won just a single Olympic gold, which they managed to capture in 2004 when Barry Dancer's side beat the Dutch in the finals at Athens.

The Aussies have, however, won the Champions Trophy 15 times and will be aiming to win their third successive World Cup title when Colin Batch's boys begin their campaign against the Irish.

Batch himself was part of an indomitable Aussie side that first won the World Cup in 1986 but has been rather cautious when it comes to assessing his team's chances at Bhubaneswar, stressing that the Odisha World Cup will possibly be the most open edition of the competition ever.

The Aussies lost to Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 Champions Trophy just as they did in the semifinals of the London Olympics in 2012.

At Rio, the Aussies were beaten by Spain and Belgium in the pool stages too but these failures, apart, have had a dominant run over the last eight years or so.

With three Commonwealth Gold medals (2010, 2014, and 2018), two Champions Trophy gold medals (2016, 2018), in addition to the World Cup titles of 2010 and 2014, and the Hockey World League gold in Bhubaneswar last December, Australia will be the team to beat in the Odisha World Cup.

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Edited by Arvind Sriram
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