Bhubaneswar, India: Less than one year before it has the privilege of hosting the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2018, the Indian city of Bhubaneswar welcomes the eight nations that will fight for the title at the Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final, which gets underway on Friday 1st December.
With Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and hosts India – nations all placed inside the top 10 of the FIH Hero World Rankings – in action at the impressive Kalinga Stadium, it is an event of the very highest calibre and the competition is guaranteed to be fiercely contested.
In addition to being crowned Hockey World League champions, the winners of the event in Bhubaneswar will also guarantee qualification for the Men’s Champions Trophy 2018, which will take place in the Netherlands in June/July. FIH Hero World Ranking points are also on offer, assigned to teams depending on their final position in the standings. A good performance in the Hockey World League could therefore prove crucial in terms of qualification for future FIH events. With so much up for grabs, competition will be intense as teams battle to become the world’s best at the Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final.
The journey to Bhubaneswar began back in April 2016, when Singapore hosted the first of eight Round 1 events. Round 1 lead into three Round 2 competitions ahead of the sensational Semi-Final events, with India now ready to host the concluding chapter in what has been an epic showcase for the sport that has featured over 50 nations and 1,000 athletes playing more than 10,000 minutes of hockey and scoring in excess of 1,000 goals.
Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium has enjoyed plenty of exceptional hockey in recent years, with the venue playing host not only to the Hero Men’s Champions Trophy in 2014 but also being the stage in which the Kalinga Lancers have lit up the Hockey India League. Yet again, the stadium will welcome the world’s best, and all eight teams will be looking for a title success which could provide a crucial psychological advantage ahead of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018.
The competition will feature two pools of four followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and classification matches, with the round-robin pool phase taking place between Friday 1st and Tuesday 5th December 2017. In Pool A, Argentina (FIH Hero World Ranking: 1) take on Belgium (WR: 3), Netherlands (WR: 4) and Spain (WR: 9) with Australia (WR: 2), Germany (WR: 5), India (WR: 6) and England (WR: 7) competing in Pool B. Following the round-robin, the top four teams in each pool will move into the crossover quarter-final phase, with the pool winners meeting the fourth-placed team from the opposite pool. The #2 and #3 finishers will also face-off in the knock-out quarter-final. The winners of the quarter-final matches will move into the semi-finals and the 3v4 and 1v2 matches, with the losing teams playing for placement.
As reigning Olympic champions and the top ranked team in the world, Argentina will be seen as favourites to claim a first-place finish in Pool A. Los Leones followed their second-place finish at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London by claiming their second consecutive Pan American Cup title, defeating Canada 2-0 in the final. Thirty-five-year-old Paredes was named best player at the competition and also finished joint top scorer with seven goals alongside team-mate Gonzalo Peillat, a man widely regarded as the most dangerous penalty corner expert in the game.
Argentina’s opponents in Pool A are all more than capable of mixing it with the world’s best. Belgium and the Netherlands both claimed first place finishes in their respective Hockey World League Semi-Final competitions earlier this year, with the Netherlands defeating Argentina in London and Belgium overpowering Germany to win in Johannesburg. Belgium and the Netherlands also contested the final of the Rabo EuroHockey Championships earlier this year, with the Dutch taking the title in Amsterdam thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Red Lions. Spain’s fifth-place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games provided evidence that the Red Sticks are once again a team to be feared, a point re-emphasised by their excellent fourth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg earlier this year.
As the reigning World, Champions Trophy, Oceania Cup, Hockey World League and Commonwealth Games title holders, few can dispute that Australia’s Kookaburras are one of the most formidable teams in the game and will be considered as favourites to top Pool B. That said, they are certain to face a stern challenge from a Germany side boosted by the return of star striker Florian Fuchs, who took an extended break from the game following the bronze medal success at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Fuelled by a passionate home crowd and fresh from their superb title success at the Asia Cup in October, India are also expected to be a serious threat in Pool B. The Asia Cup victory was the perfect start to the tenure of new Head Coach Sjoerd Marijne, who will be hoping his side can reproduce that excellent form in the Kalinga Stadium. With a third-place finish at June’s Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London and a bronze medal at August’s Rabo EuroHockey Championship in Amsterdam, England are another team that have every reason to feel optimistic about their chances of success in Bhubaneswar. Veteran attacking midfielder Barry Middleton is on the verge of becoming the first British player to play 400 internationals, ensuring that this event will be one that he personally will never forget.
The event begins on Friday 1st December with all of the action taking place in Pool B. Germany face England at 1645 Indian Standard Time (UTC +5.30) before home favourites India taking on Australia at 1930.