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FIH Men's Hockey World Cup 2023 Preview: India eye first podium finish in 48 years as they play Spain in Opener
1/12/2023 11:02:51 PM
agencies
NEW DELHI, Jan 12: A historic bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics bringing them back among the international elite, India will seek their first podium finish in 48 years in the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup as they begin their campaign against Spain in a tricky match here on Friday. A medal in this showpiece will strengthen the claim that the former giants of the game with eight Olympic gold have turned the corner in world hockey.
The country won a bronze in the inaugural tournament in 1971 and clinched a silver in the next edition in 1973. Ajit Pal Singh led the side to title triumph in 1975 but since then they have failed to even reach the semifinals.
From 1978 to 2014, India could not go past the group stage.
The Indian team, no doubt, would be one of the medal contenders with the talented bunch led by Harmanpreet Singh emerging as a force to reckon with. The team has earned respect from other top countries in recent times.
Currently ranked sixth in the world, India have come into the tournament after an impressive show against the world number one side Australia in an away five-match series though they lost the rubber 1-4.
Graham Reid's side matched the Australians, one of the favourites to win the World Cup, in most departments of the game, notching up their first win in six years against their formidable opponents.
In the previous edition, also held in Bhubaneswar, India had exited at the quarterfinal stage after losing to the Netherlands, the eventual runners-up, and they would be looking to reach at least the semifinals this time. India have also done well in the FIH Hockey Pro League, finishing third in the 2021-22 season. The confidence and the winning mentality is back with the team.
Since Reid took over the head coach's position in 2019, India's stature has grown. He has been able to get the best out of the players, injecting a tactical discipline to their trademark skillful, fluid playing style, making them a team that is respected and feared in equal measure.
"We focussed mainly on scenarios in our training, what if we are 0-1 down, what if we are playing with 10 men, what if they take their keeper off. Those types of scenarios which are important that we have dealt with," Reid said.
Captain and FIH Player of the Year Harmanpreet Singh, a fabulous defender and one of the best drag flickers in the game, will be key to India's success while goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, mid-field ace Manpreet Singh and Hardik Singh, and striker Mandeep Singh are all capable of bringing about game-changing moments.
Defender Amit Rohidas, who has captained the team in the past and also takes penalty corners, and forward Akashdeep Singh will be among the other India players to watch out for.
Reid said he wants to take some pressure off captain Harmanpreet, who is also a defensive bulwark.
India will hope to begin with a win, as that result can help them top Pool D for a direct quarterfinal berth and avoid playing cross-over matches (meant for second and third place teams of each of each of the four pools).
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