When India last hosted the Hockey World Cup in New Delhi in 2010, Rajpal Singh’s team started off with a blockbuster encounter against arch-rivals Pakistan.Egged on by a vociferous 30,000-strong crowd that had packed the National Stadium to the rafters, the hosts registered one of their most memorable wins against Pakistan, a 4-1 win in a pulsating encounter on February 28, 2010 that exorcised demons of the humiliating 7-1 defeat suffered by India in the 1982 Asian Games at the same venue.However, when India will host the hockey World Cup for the third time in November-December this year in Bhubaneswar, they will not be playing Pakistan as both teams are in separate pools. Fanatical fans in the two countries have always looked forward to matches between the two neighbours, once the two dominant forces in hockey that are now struggling to compete with the European powerhouses which have stolen a march on them.For millions of fans on either side of the border, any tournament starts and ends with the clash between the two arch-rivals, matches that transcend the borders of sports encounters to games of political one-upmanship. Till now, India and Pakistan have played five times in World Cup with the former leading 3-2 in head-to-head.But alas, Bhubaneswar may not witness an India-Pakistan clash altogether -- not even in the knockout phase. With 16 teams divided into four groups of four teams each for preliminary round-robin stage round and only top two placed teams having a chance of advancing to the next round, Pakistan are facing the danger of failing to make it to the knock-out stage as they have been included in a tough group along with European giants Netherlands and Germany.Hosts India, placed in a comparatively easier pool thanks to their superior world ranking, will open their campaign in the 2018 Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup against South Africa in a low-key encounter on November 28, the opening day of the competition.Included in Pool C, India will meet World No 3 Belgium in their next preliminary league match on December 2 and round off their first round engagements against Canada on December 8, according to the schedule released by international hockey federation (FIH) on Wednesday.The 16 teams in fray have been divided into four groups of four teams each with the first placed team directly making it to the quarterfinals, starting on December 12, while the second placed teams will have to play cross-over matches to decide their place in the last-eight stage. The semifinals will be played on December 15 and the final on the next day.With Belgium the only higher ranked team in their Pool, hosts India should easily qualify for the last-eight stage unless they make hara-kiri of this easy group.Group A comprises Rio 2016 Olympic champions Argentina (current ranking: 2) alongside New Zealand (WR: 9), Spain (WR:8) and France (WR:18), while reigning world champions Australia (WR: 1) take on England (WR:7), Ireland (WR:10) and China (WR:17) in Pool B.In what is clearly the ‘pool of death’, European title holders and three-time world champions, the Netherlands take on two-time winners Germany (WR:5), Malaysia (WR:12) and Pakistan (WR:13), the World Cup winners in 1971, 1978, 1982, 1994, in Pool D.There are numerous eye-catching fixtures in the pool phase, including the mouth-watering Pool D meeting involving two former world champions in Germany and Pakistan on December 1, Netherlands and Germany on December 5 and England, aiming to upset the odds against the mighty Kookaburras on December 4.Defending champions Australia will open their campaign against lowly Ireland on November 30.In a nutshellTournament dates: Nov 28 to Dec 16, 2018-02-28 Venue: Kalinga Stadium, BhubaneswarNo of teams: 16GroupingsPool A: Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, FrancePool B: Australia, England, Ireland, ChinaPool C: Belgium, India, Canada, South AfricaPool D: Netherlands, Germany, Malaysia, PakistanKey EncountersIndia’s pool matches -Nov 28: vs South Africa at 7pmDec 2: vs Belgium at 7 pmDec 8: vs Canada at 7pmDec 10-11: Cross-over matches involving second-placed teams in poolsDec 12-13: QuarterfinalsDec 15: SemifinalsDec 16: Final.