For a tournament that has received more brickbats than bouquets, the start of action on the field will be an apt way to shift focus away from all the problems that have dogged the build up.
While the focus on the opening day of the Hero Honda FIH World Cup will be on the marquee contest between India and Pakistan, defending champions Germany and Australia are the hot favourites to win the title.
While Germany will be hoping to complete a hat-trick of titles (they won in 2002 at Kuala Lumpur and 2006 at Monchengladback), Australia look the best bet for the title. They have a formidable side led by Jamie Dwyer and coach Richard Charlesworth is a shrewd tactician. In the last year, Australia had good results against Germany, Spain, Holland and England and have the players and confidence to add to another title to the one they won in the 1986 edition in England.
Australia lost to Germany in 2002 and 2006 but with Germany and Netherlands in a rebuilding phase, Spain seem the only real threat unless India or Pakistan manage to thrive in local conditions and cause big upsets. Australia are in a tougher pool than Germany, and Charlesworth’s boys will have to be on their toes in all five pool matches.
Though Germany and Holland don’t look so strong on paper, taking them lightly will be foolish. Germany won the 2008 Beijing Olympic gold with an inexperienced side and they also managed to shift the pressure to Australia by setting a modest goal of reaching the semis. So Sunday’s clash between India and Pakistan will be crucial as far as Pool B is concerned. The team winning the match will gain confidence and can go all the way. Though all will not be lost for the one that loses the match, overcoming such a big loss will be difficult.
That’s why Indian coach Jose Brasa wants his boys to take the match against Pakistan as any other match. “We have to keep the politics out of the sport. Sport is an easy way to building friendship. The boys will have to control the emotional side of the game,” Brasa said. Last time the two teams met, Pakistan defeated India 6-3 in the Champions Challenge I in Salta, Argentina, in December.
For the record, India and Pakistan have met four times in the World Cup and share honours at 2-2. Overall, Pakistan enjoy huge superiority, having won 74 matches to India’s 44 in 142 games played, while 24 finished in draws.