After a long wait, it's here at last! The fourteenth edition of the prestigious Women's World Cup is all set to commence tomorrow at the Lee Valley Hockey Center in London. Sixteen of the world's best hockey teams will battle it out for the game's biggest prize over the next fortnight, in what promises to be an engaging spectacle.
Mandelieu, the picturesque seaside town near Cannes, played host to the inaugural edition of the competition in 1974 and the Dutch girls established their hegemony right at the outset. Defending champions Holland have won the World Cup a record seven times and start as favorites yet again.
West Germany won gold in the second and fourth editions in 1976 and 1981, but have never won the title since. Sydney hosted the Cup in 1990 and hosts Australia made their mark for the first time, winning silver at home, and went on to reign supreme in the next two editions, played in 1994 and 1998. Argentina won the competition in Perth in 2002, and at home, in Rosario, in 2010.
Twenty-eight countries have participated in thirteen editions of the competition thus far out of which only four have won gold. Olympic champions England would like nothing better than to rewrite history in front a home crowd and become the fifth nation to win the World Cup.
A tough test awaits the hosts, as their opener is against India - a team which shocked them by a 2-1 margin just over three months ago, in the Commonwealth Games. For Rani Rampal and the Indian girls, the victory over the Olympic champions at Gold Coast was a watershed moment for the women's game in the country and changed the way the hockey world perceived India.
The two sides clashed again in the bronze-medal match of the same tournament and things were pretty even until England's second goal at the end of the third quarter threw the Indians into disarray. In an effort to commit players forward, they conceded four goals in the final quarter, going down by a 0-6 margin.
Sophie Bray created havoc in the striking circle while scoring a hattrick, much to India's dismay, and the Golden Girls will be wary of the 28-year-old striker when they take the field tomorrow.
The Indian girls will also need to keep the dangerous Alex Danson at bay and deny chances to drag-flicker Giselle Ansley who can prove to be a handful. Rani, Navneet, Vandana, and young Lalremsiani found it tough to get past the brilliant Maddie Hinch in goal at Gold Coast and they will be hoping for a better show tomorrow.
Hinch's Indian counterpart, Savita Punia, however, was brimming with confidence as she summed up India's chances. "It is good that we have England in the pool as we are confident that we can challenge them. We lost the bronze-medal match (at Gold Coast) as we did not play to our potential."
India's best performance in the World Cup thus far was a fourth-place finish in 1974 and they have never made it to the semifinal since.
A sell out crowd of 10,000 is expected to witness the eagerly-awaited contest tomorrow. Indian coach Sjoerd Marijne opines that the pressure will be on the hosts, England, as they are ranked second - eight rungs above the Indians in the FIH World Rankings, and are therefore expected to win. The Indians, he says, will surprise the world at London.
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Event: Women's Hockey World Cup 2018
Venue: London, The United Kingdom
Date: 21 July, 2018
Time: 6:30 pm Indian Standard Time (IST)
Telecast: Star Sports 2, Star Sports HD2
Live Streaming: Hotstar
Live Updates: SportskeedaPublished 20 Jul 2018, 15:25 IST