Odisa Hockey Men’s World Cup all set to witness good hockey
The elite of world hockey has assembled at Bhubaneswar in Odisha for the elite event of the sport, the World Cup, featuring 16 teams from five continents to decide the new leader of World hockey. The fight is mainly between Europe and Australasia with an outside chance for Americas (Argentina and Canada) and Africa (South Africa).
The 19-day hockey extravaganza will not only witness a fierce contest over goal scoring methods – field goals vs penalty corner conversions – but also between youth and experience besides skills and drags.
Hockey has changed face so has its pace. It is faster, at times dull and drab, and unpredictable. But it still abounds in excitement as there are more goals scored and even the gold medal matches are decided by big margins.
After five years of intense planning, preparation and a stunning rebuild of the now 15,000 capacity Kalinga Hockey Stadium, the Indian city of Bhubaneswar in Odisha is ready to host to the world’s finest men’s international hockey teams.
On Monday captains of all 16 competing teams joined Odisha’s Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at Bhubaneswar’s impressive Mukteshwar Temple for a special commemorative photo shoot. On Tuesday, it was time for the glittering opening ceremony dominated by the Bollywood elite, including Shah Rukh Khan and Oscar winner AR Rahman.
As if that is not enough, a second celebration will take place on Wednesday (28 November) in the nearby city of Cuttack, where the 40,000 capacity Barabati Stadium will see AR Rahman and numerous other stars taking part. Following the show, India’s first match, against South Africa, will be telecas live to an excited crowd via giant screen in the stadium.
The competition format in Bhubaneswar is the same as that which was used at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup earlier this year, with the 16 competing nations split into four pools of four teams each.. Top finishers in each pool will be guaranteed a berth in quarter-finals while the second and third placed finishers will need to play an extra cross-over play-off match for a place in the last eight.
The pool phase of the event in Bhubaneswar will see each day two matches involving the teams of the same pool starting with Pool C matches getting the tournament off to a flying start on Wednesday evening. Olympic silver medalists Belgium (FIH Hero World Ranking: 3) begins its quest for a first ever World Cup title when it faces Canada (WR:11). Belgium’s gifted squad is blessed with numerous world class players including Arthur van Doren and Vincent Vanasch, the respective FIH Player and FIH Goalkeeper of the Year for 2017 respectively. Canada have plenty of quality of its own, especially in the shape of inspirational defender and penalty corner expert Scott Tupper, who will be looking to guide his team to what would be a famous victory.
Canadians have four players of Indian origin including Panesar brothers.
While there is plenty of intrigue surrounding the opening fixture, for the vast majority of the sell-out 15,000 crowd it is merely a warm-up for the main event as host nation India (WR:5) go head-to-head with African champions South Africa (WR:15). South Africa come with the experience of Austin Smith, Rhett Halkett and team captain Tim Drummond, Indians have some of the best players in skipper Manpreet, drag flicker Harmanpreet, forwards Akashdeep and young Dilpreet besides defender Surendra Kumar.
On subsequent days, the focus will switch from Pools A to B to C, with matches taking place at 1700 and 1900 each day. The Pool A fixtures on Thursday will see Rio 2016 Olympic gold medallists Argentina (WR:2) facing Spain packed with flair in what promised to be a thrilling encounter before the Black Sticks of New Zealand (WR:9) go head-to-head with France (WR:20), a team returning to World Cup action for the first time in 28 years.
On Friday is all about Pool B, with reigning world champions Australia (WR:1) beginning its title defence against Ireland (WR:10) keen to show just how much progress it has made in recent years. England (WR:7) take on China (WR:17) in the evening match, with Danny Kerry’s team looking to get its competition off to a winning start.
The first round of pool matches will be completed on day four as the Netherlands (WR:4) take on Malaysia (WR:12) in a fascinating encounter that will see legendary Dutchman and current Malaysia Head Coach Roelant Oltmans aiming to defeat a team that he guided to World Cup glory at the 1998 event in Utrecht. That match will be followed by a meeting between two nations that have won six world titles between themselves, as two-time champions Germany (WR:6) take on four-time winners Pakistan (WR:13).