Women's Hockey World Cup 2018: Can India breach the knockout barrier?
Only a couple of days are left at the beginning of the Vitality FIH Women's Hockey World Cup 2018, which shall be held at London from 21st of July to 5th of August 2018. For the first time since the Perth edition of 2002, the number of teams shall be increased from the standard 12 to a whopping 16 teams for the current edition, being held at the Lee Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre, London.
With Sjoerd Marijne back at the helm of affairs as the women's team coach, the Indian women's hockey team is all set to remove the stigma of the past and make their mark in the current edition. In the last edition that they had qualified for, way back in 2010, India had finished an average ninth, though it was their best position in the tournament since 1978 when they'd finished seventh.
However, this time, Team India wants to remove the tag of 'Chokers' from their profile with an impressive stint in the tournament. Even a breach of the knockout barriers and a top-six finish can boost the morale of this team like nothing else.
Having established themselves as the new Asian powerhouse of women's hockey, India wish to finish the 2018 World Cup on a historic high!
Change in rules
Ever since India last featured in the Women's Hockey World Cup in 2010, a lot has changed in women's hockey.
Instead of the classic green turf with a white ball, the game has shifted to a deep blue turf, with a yellow ball. The duration of 70 minutes has been trimmed further to 60 minutes, divided into four quarters, with a 2.5-minute quarterly break and a 5-10 minutes half time.
This format has not only catapulted the hockey field upside down but also opened a new door for teams like India to make a renewed effort towards the ultimate supremacy.
With unpredictable quarters, nail-biting finishes, hockey is soon set to give one of the world's most popular sports, i.e. soccer a tough run for their money, with increased viewership, crisper format and a dedicated spirit.
Also, the current World Cup is a huge departure from the previous editions. Not only shall the game be played under the current format of 60 minutes for the first time, the game shall also feature the lively, eight-second penalty shootout instead of the penalty strokes that were used to decide the winners earlier.
The tournament format has also changed. Instead of the dreary 12 team round robin format, where only two teams managed to make the cut, while the rest were forced to sit out and compete for the other places, the 16 teams are divided into four pools comprising four teams each.
The pool topper would get an automatic berth in the quarterfinals, while the 2nd and 3rd ranked teams of any pool would compete against such teams from the other pools in a crossover, that would determine the final four places for the quarterfinals.
So realistically, except for the teams that would finish at the bottom of the pool table, other teams still have a realistic chance at the podium, irrespective of their FIH rankings.
India's possible journey:
As of now, India is placed in a tough group of Pool B, with Olympic champions England, the resilient team from the United States, who finished an impressive fifth at Rio Olympics 2016, and Ireland. However, given that Ireland is the only weak team, India still has a chance of making it to the knockouts.
India's first match is against the very hosts England. In case India wins against Ireland in the next match and draws against the USA, even a first match loss against England wouldn't upset their equations. However, once India reaches the crossover, it needs to set all equations correctly for a safe passage to the quarterfinals.
In case India finishes second in Pool B, it would face either China or Italy. However, if India finishes third in Pool B, they would have to defeat the reigning Asian powerhouse South Korea to make it to the quarterfinals, their best position since 1978 edition, where they finished seventh overall.
Can India recreate history?
It's been 44 years since India last made it to the final four of the FIH Women's Hockey World Cup, and it's been exactly four decades since they last made it to the final eight of the same. However, if India keeps its mind cool and the equations straight, they're well capable of doing the unimaginable.
No more the weaklings who choked in important tournaments, despite having immense potential, Team India has improved drastically since their stint at Rio Olympics 2016. They shocked China by 5-4 in penalty shootouts to clinch the Women's Asia Cup in 2017, which gave them a direct ticket to FIH Women's Hockey World Cup for the first time in eight years.
Even though they remained out of the podium at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, their fourth place, especially after surprising Olympic champions England and making the Australian team sweat it out for a win in the semifinals is nothing less than remarkable.
If India manages to repeat this feat, they shall find their place in the golden books of history alongside their junior team from 2013, who had clinched a historic bronze at the FIH Junior World Cup.
Can the Indian Women's Hockey Team put up a stellar performance at the World Cup? Sound off your opinions in the comments section below!