History And Recent Form Not On India’s Side This Hockey World Cup
For the third time in the history of the tournament, India are set to host the men’s hockey World Cup in the city of Bhubaneswar, starting 28 November. The tournament will feature the top 16 nations, competing over 19 days for the coveted trophy.
Australia will enter the tournament as defending champions – having defeated Netherlands 6-1 in the 2014 edition’s final in Hague – and also as the top-ranked team in the world. The most successful nation at the World Cup, however, is Pakistan that won the title in 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994. But their performance in recent years has dipped, and with their issues of getting funding to play the World Cup, the team is currently ranked No.13 in the world.
India, on the other hand, are the top-ranked Asian country and fifth in the world. But which team will they go up against in the pool stages? What has their record been this year? And who will be the key players in the hosts’ campaign?
India’s Past World Cup Record
The 1975 edition is the first, and only time that the Indian men’s hockey team won the World Cup title. Before the Ajitpal Singh-led team defeated Pakistan 2-1 in the final, India had clinched silver in 1973 and won bronze in 1971, when the tournament first began.
Since their lone title, the eight-time Olympic champions have ended their best World Cup performances at the fifth spot in 1982, and then 1994.
In the recent years, the Indian team have endured a torrid run at the tournament, with an eighth-place finish being their best in the last decade.
India have a relatively easy start to their campaign, playing 15th ranked South Africa at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium in Bhubaneswar on 28 November. The South Africa men’s team have never won the World Cup; they stood 11th in the last edition and their best performances have been a 10th-place finish in 1994 and 2010.
Next up, India will play the Belgian ‘Red Lions’, whose success graph has seen a sharp upward slope in recent years. The World No. 3 team bagged a silver at the Rio Olympics, and won gold at the Hockey World League semi-final. However, after losing twice to them, India defeated Belgium 5-4 in the 4 Nations Invitational Tournament in January, and then drew 1-1 with them during the Champions Trophy.
India’s last opponents in the group-stage, Canada, had qualified for the World Cup after defeating the hosts 3-2 at the HWL semi-final last year. Currently World No. 11, Canada had come back from a 1-2 deficit in the second half to book their WC spot. Though their squad doesn’t come with a lot of experience, the Indian team will be sure not to let their guard down against the Red Caribou.
Sardar, Rupinder, Sunil: India Miss Experienced Players
Besides missing the services of Sardar Singh who announced his retirement earlier this year, the Indian squad will not feature the experienced defender and drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and senior midfielder SV Sunil – both of them were dropped for unknown reasons.
Midfielder Manpreet Singh will be leading the 18-member team at the World Cup, with the guidance of (sometimes captain, sometimes not) Goalkeeper PR Sreejesh and Vice-Captain Chinglensana Singh Kangujam.
Among the other key players in the Indian team will be Harmanpreet Singh, who will be the penalty corner specialist in the absence of Rupinder. Defender Birendra Lakra will also make a comeback into the team after missing out the Asian Champions Trophy in Muscat last month due to rehabilitation. And one player to watch out for at the World Cup will be 19-year-old Forward Dilpreet Singh, who made his international debut just this year. He found his way into the team on the back of his performance at the junior level, and has been part of India’s squad at all major tournaments this year.
India’s Title-less Year So Far
After a dismal year, the Indian hockey team would like to finish the year on a high with a good performance at the World Cup.
At the beginning of 2018, Sardar Singh-led India finished a dismal fifth at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. Manpreet Singh then took over as captain for the Commonwealth Games, where India’s campaign once again ended on a disappointing note. India lost 1-2 to England in the bronze medal play-off, and came home from the Games without a medal for the first time in 20 years.
At the Champions Trophy, PR Sreejesh-led India staged a comeback to win their second-straight silver medal. But it was at the Asian Games in Indonesia that defending champions India were dealt with their biggest heartbreak.
The top-ranked men’s hockey team at Jakarta, India were denied a direct entry into the 2020 Olympics, after a 6-7 loss to a lower-ranked Malaysia in a semi-final that went to penalty shootouts. The Indian team later defeated Pakistan 2-1 to bag the bronze medal.
At the Asian Champions Trophy, the Indian team remained undefeated and were forced to share the title with Pakistan after the final was called-off due to rain.
(Hi there! We will be continuing our news service on WhatsApp. Meanwhile, stay tuned to our Telegram channel here.)