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Hockey World Cup 2018: Young India keen to begin with a bang

Though India have a 25-8 record against the highest-ranked African team, South Africa are an unknown entity, with India having last faced them at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games where India won 5-2.

other sports Updated: Nov 28, 2018 12:58 IST
Sandip Sikdar
Sandip Sikdar
Bhubaneswar
Hockey World Cup 2018,India vs South Africa,Hockey World Cup
File image of India's Harmanpreet Singh (L) and Manpreet Singh (R) celebrating a goal.(AFP)

“This World Cup will be one of the best in terms of spectators, organisation, facility and the quality of players,” said India coach Harendra Singh on the eve of the quadrennial event. Hockey is the buzzword here in the state capital. Every corner you visit, every road you take, you see some sign of the World Cup, which is set to enthrall the public here from November 28 to December 16.

The hype, promotion and buildup over, it’s now business time as the 14th edition of the mega event is all set to commence with two Pool C games on Wednesday --- Belgium vs Canada followed by the much-anticipated India vs South Africa.

Also Read: Sardar Singh misses playing for India, hopes for podium finish

No matter what the players say, the pressure of playing a World Cup opener --- that too in front of the home crowd in a place known as the cradle of hockey --- will be immense on the young Indian team whose average age is 23.5, the lowest in the tournament.

“I enjoy pressure. I don’t know the outcome, but these coming three weeks are going to be the best moments of my career,” says the coach who two years ago led India to unexpected glory in the junior World Cup in Lucknow.

“We understand the first match is important. It releases 40-50% of the pressure. We want full points from the first match. But for points, we cannot sacrifice the basics of hockey, the strategy.”

Though India have a 25-8 record against the highest-ranked African team, South Africa are an unknown entity, with India having last faced them at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games where India won 5-2.

“We are planning to upset a lot of people here. We really want to surprise them (India),” said South Africa coach Mark Hopkins.

Also Read: PM Narendra Modi wishes luck to participating teams

Manpreet Singh and Co knows that the South Africans play rough, but they are ready. “Their strikers will try to break us. But we have strategies in place. We want to think ahead of our opponents,” said Harendra.

Much has been written about the historic night in Kuala Lumpur 43 years ago (India’s only gold and last medal at the World Cup), but a realist knows that an encore will be nothing short of a miracle, despite the advantages of playing on home turf for the third time after 1982 Mumbai and 2010 New Delhi.

On the other hand, Belgium have more than a chance of bagging this edition of the World Cup. From not qualifying for the 2010 World Cup to fifth in 2014, the Red Lions have come a long way to be ranked No.3 in the world. They reached the zenith when they claimed silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics followed by silver at the 2017 European Championships.

They will be up against Canada in the first game of the tournament, which will be followed by India’s game.

India’s topsy-turvy ride in 2018 is behind them. All the captain and coach changes behind them, Manpreet’s team has forgotten the past and is solely focused on what lies ahead. As Harendra puts it, “We learn from history, gain experience but there is no point recalling it. Let us focus ahead on the World Cup which will be full of skillful players and tactics.”

The last time the World Cup was held on Indian soil, albeit a junior one, the hosts won the tournament under the same coach with seven players of the current squad. Having already tasted success, the youngsters are hungry for more.

First Published: Nov 28, 2018 12:37 IST