Rourkela: As the Indian team gears up for its opening match of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup against Spain, former captain of the Indian Hockey team Viren Rasquinha said that playing in the very tough pool is definitely not a “walk in the park” and added that the Men in Blue need to be intensely focussed right from the first match.
From January 13 to January 29, the marquee Hockey event will be held in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.
India is placed in Pool D along with England, Wales and Spain.
The anticipation among hockey fans in India is at an all-time high as the Indian men’s hockey team start their FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela campaign against Spain on January 13 at the stellar new Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium in Rourkela.
The hunger to build on the team’s success will be intense as India have bagged a bronze medal in 1971, silver in 1973 and gold in 1975, having its last podium finish at the world cup nearly 48 years ago. Graham Reid, the Australian World Cup and Olympic medallist coaches the Indian side which is a blend of youth and experience and will be hoping to have a fruitful campaign this time around.
While interacting with Star Sports, former captain of the Indian National Hockey team Viren Rasquinha said, “I think for starters, India has a very tough pool I would almost call it a pool of death with England, Spain, Wales in our pool. It’s definitely not a walk in the park, we’ve seen in the FIH Pro league India has lost to Spain, England is always being a tough team, Wales again have few players of Great Britain, they play a tough and physical game sometimes. So, in major tournaments, I’m not really a big fan of looking too much ahead. Our first goal is to get through a very tough pool and we have to stay intensely focused right from the first match where we go up against Spain.”
Further he spoke on who the players to watch out for are in this young Indian side, he said, “I think some of the key players for India at this World Cup are going to be starting with the goalkeepers and defence. Really, both goalkeepers Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak are going to play a very important role now with this belief that if you want to win tournaments your goalkeeper has to have an excellent tournament. So there is going to be a lot of burden of responsibility on the shoulders of Sreejesh and Krishan Pathak.”
Harmanpreet Singh, as usual, will be crucial for the Indian team in the match. Converting penalty corners, especially in the first quarter.
“Of course, Harmanpreet Singh in the defence has such an important role to play, he’s been nominated the FIH world player of the year. He’s been an excellent defender for India for the last few years. Obviously, his penalty corner conversions as well are very very important. In the midfield we have a strong and experienced midfielder, Manpreet Singh, there’s Hardik who’s had a great tournament ” added Rasquinha, while Praising India captain Harmanpreet Singh.
Vivek Sagar Prasad made his senior India debut in January 2018 at the age of 17 years, 10 months, and 22 days to become the second-youngest player to represent his country. Since then, the creative playmaker has made over 90 International appearances for India. He will return to the team after missing the team’s recent tour of Australia as well as the FIH Hockey Pro League due to an ankle injury.
“Young Vivek Sagar Prasad, he’s improving by leaps and bounds. Nilakanta Sharma, he’s a live wire on the pitch and I think in the forward line Abhishek is the young forward that has really impressed me for the last year. He made his debut a little over a year back but I will say that he’s really established his place in the team, he’s had an excellent Commonwealth Games and of course, we have experienced players like Mandeep and Lalit Kumar Upadhyay. Overall, it is a strong balanced team and in a team sport like Hockey, everyone has to do their role and if everyone plays their role in the best way possible it really enhances India’s chance to get a medal here,” he added.
Belgium are the defending champions having won the World Cup in the 2018 edition. Belgium won the tournament for the first time, defeating the Netherlands 3-2 on penalties in the final after a 0-0 tie. On the other hand, world no. 1-ranked Australia are the toughest contender in the tournament. The three-time World Cup winners have the best winning and goal-scoring records in the tournament’s 48-year history. Australia lifted their maiden title in 1986.
Rasquinha also mentioned, “In world hockey, the top 10 nations of the world everyone is strong but right now I would put Olympic gold medallist Belgium and Olympic silver medallist Australia head and shoulders above the rest. I think these two teams have been very solid and extremely consistent in major tournaments so over the last few years. So, for me Belgium and Australia are definitely going to be India’s toughest opponents here at the world cup”.
(with inputs from ANI)