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Friday, January 13, 2023

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ROURKELA: Hope. That is the overarching theme of the Men's Hockey World Cup in 2023. After a 48-year wait, all that remains is hope. The story stays the same. Similar expectations exist. However, times have changed significantly. The team was the best in the world when India won its first World Cup in 1975. After nearly five decades without a World Cup appearance, hope is the only familiar face in 2023.


However, there is a welcome departure from any World Cup India has hosted in Bombay since 1982 on paper. This World Cup will be the first time an Indian team will compete as a medalist from the previous Olympics, as they won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.


India will open their World Cup campaign against Spain on Friday at the multi-million Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium (BMHS) in Rourkela, a jaw-dropping spectacle worth more than Rs 250 crores, just 526 days after winning bronze at the Tokyo Games.


Due to its beauty and the ongoing construction going on even the day before the World Cup begins, the BMHS has been the center of attention during the buildup. But the most important things are getting ready to show off the tournament.


On January 12, the 15th edition of the men's World Cup got off to a glittering start, but not at the two World Cup venues for some reason. The fact that it was held in Cuttack surprised many.


The competition will begin with two afternoon games on Friday at Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium, the co-host of the first-ever men's World Cup held in two cities. The two evening matches on the first day will be played in Rourkela, including India's first pool match against Spain at 1900 IST.


The global no. On Thursday, the 6 Indian team, which is in Pool D with England, Spain, and Wales, who are making their debut, finished its preparations. Coach Graham Reid ran last-minute checks that focused primarily on the positions of the defenders inside the circle and the penalty-corner routines.


Harmanpreet Singh, who took over for Manpreet Singh as captain in the latter half of 2022, is an expert drag-flicker and captain of India.


The analysis of India's squad has focused on the lack of drag-flick back-up for Harmanpreet because Jugraj Singh, another specialist, has been placed among the two reserves.


But Harmanpreet is different, and he backs vice-captain Amit Rohidas, Varun Kumar, and local boy Nilam Sanjeep Xess as good options for turning penalty corners into goals.


"I would say that our drag flickers are good. The team includes four members. The Indian skipper stated, "We have variations and need to use those well."


On paper, India's toughest pool match appears to be against England on January 15, before their final pool match is against Wales on January 19 in Bhubaneswar. However, Spain's tenacity cannot be underestimated, particularly since they hired the cunning Max Caldas as coach the previous year.


In contrast to India, which has players like PR Sreejesh competing in his fourth World Cup and third on Indian soil, the Spaniards, on the other hand, are betting on youth. But there are some players on the Spanish team, like Joaquin Menini, an Argentine who won the gold medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016 but switched to Spain after fighting with the Argentina national team.


"Beware of teenagers; There is no fear because they can perform much better than they might think they can. They won't lose anything. These teams should be avoided at all costs. That's the reality," India coach Reid stated regarding Spain's youthful team.


"Sometimes, especially in a big tournament like this, I think experience is a little bit overrated. All we have to do is play our best. "Performance where we can and being able to achieve that is the key to this tournament for us," added Reid, who became the Indian team's coach following the previous World Cup.


It will also be interesting to see how the Spanish team, which has begun to reestablish itself in world hockey, deals with the pressure of playing in a stadium full of Indian supporters.


According to Reid, although the players are motivated by the support of the crowd, it can also be a double-edged sword if it is not absorbed.


"It's all about staying present. Keeping your focus is something we frequently discuss. If you are feeling anxious or under pressure, this indicates that you are not on task. "It indicates that you are either thinking about something that has occurred in the past or something that will happen in the future," the coach for India stated.


"So it's a matter of understanding and getting to that point where you can, as you say, let it motivate you, but you don't go over the top,"


When you know you need to win to avoid the pressure of that extra match in the crossovers, it's easier said than done.


The top two teams from each of the four pools advance straight to the quarterfinals, while the third and fourth-place teams compete in crossover matches.


India's pool is by far the toughest of the four, and Australia is expected to win Pool A. Belgian and German defending champions Belgium and Germany could fight for the top spot in Pool B, and the Netherlands would like to get straight into the quarterfinals from Pool C. Pool D is the most open and could be the pool of death, with England, India, and Spain all competing for the top spot in a race that could end in a photo finish.


Friday is a big day, and the steel city of Rourkela, which has been dressed up for the World Cup, is expected to be buzzing around the Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium's massive "bowl." And on January 29, a long-standing "hope" will be realized and a painful "wait" will end if India has learned its lessons well and can recreate Tokyo in Odisha.

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