Australia are hoping to become the first team to win three consecutive World Cups but their task will not be made easy by a resurgent Netherlands, a hungry Germany and the unpredictable Argentines.
India, after all the drama that overshadowed their preparation, will be keen to produce memorable moments in front of the home crowd. But can they go all the way?
Starting Wednesday, the world’s best hockey teams will go head-to-head in the men’s World Cup. The Dragflick profiles all 16 teams that are taking part in the November 28 to December 16 extravaganza in one of the cradles of world hockey.
Argentina : World Rank 2
The Olympic champions enter the World Cup after a long period of instability, which ended with chief coach Carlos ‘Chapa’ Retegui parting ways with the team.
His successor German Orozco, a former Argentina international, inherits a talented squad that plays free-flowing, attacking brand of hockey. Whether the world no. 2 side can continue its surge, though, remains to be seen.
- The mood of the fan is… one of hope.
- The greatest thing about this team is… continuity in the playing group – 12 out of 18 players have 100+ international appearances.
- Watch out for: Maico Casella – with all the focus on Gonzala Peillat and Lucas Villa, he might just inflict most damage.
Spain : World Rank 8
Spain might not have managed a podium finish for some years, but they remain a team that has consistently punched above its weight in world hockey.
The squad has gone through a massive change after the Rio Olympics, but coach Frederic Soyez – a former French international – has managed to retain the core.
- The mood of the fan is… don’t disappoint like the football team!
- The greatest thing about this team is… creativity, they bring freshness to the physical style adopted by most teams with their flair.
- Watch out for: Enrique Gonzalez, who moves like Enrique Iglesias and plays like Xavi.
New Zealand : World Rank 9
They’ll be keen to show they aren’t here just to make up the numbers. New Zealand are regulars at major international tournaments, but haven’t made their presence felt.
That changed at the Commonwealth Games this year, where they pushed Australia all the way back before settling for a silver. The performance set a benchmark for future tournaments, starting with the World Cup.
- The mood of the fan is… do not be sheepish!
- The greatest thing about this team is… they thrive in the underdog scenario.
- Watch out for: Blair Tarrant. The captain, an attack-minded defender, returns after missing the CWG due to an injury
France : World Rank 20
France are making their first World Cup appearance after 28 years, and among the lower-ranked teams, they have the most exciting bunch of players.
They have the potential to script an upset or two and, in Jeroen Delmee, have a coach who knows what it takes to win matches at this level.
- The mood of the fan is… hockey, what?
- The greatest thing about this team is… they have a never-say-die attitude.
- Watch out for: Captain Victor Charlet, who will be a constant threat from penalty corner situations.
GROUP B : Australia, China, England, Ireland
Australia : World Rank 1
Colin’s Batch of 2018 has a great potential to become the first side in history of the sport to win three back-to-back World Cup titles.
After surviving the transitory phase, Australia have bounced back in style, winning the World League Finals last year apart from the Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy. They have a fairly young squad, but that should hardly dent their chances.
- The mood of the fan is… go for gold or go home!
- The greatest thing about this team is… they are ruthless, no matter who the opponent.
- Watch out for: Matthew Swan, in a team brimming with quality attackers, his contribution in the defence often go unnoticed.
England : World Rank 7
They’ve come ever-so-close to podium finishes in the last two World Cups, finishing fourth on both occasions.
Whether they’ve built on those performances is debatable. England come into the tournament with a new coach – Danny Kerry, who guided GB women’s to a silver-medal finish in Rio and also coached them at the World Cup this year.
The squad was dealt with a huge blow after striker Sam Ward, highest scorer at the Gold Coast CWG, was ruled out due to injury.
- The mood of the fan is... it’s (not) coming home!
- The greatest thing about this team is... the ability to grit out a win.
- Watch out for: Barry Middleton, the attacking midfielder with 400+ appearances for national team.
Ireland : World Rank 10
Four years ago, one wouldn’t have paid much attention to an Irish team at the World Cup. But they come to Bhubaneswar with the reputation of being one of the fastest-improving side in the world.
The stunning performances by the Irish women’s team at the World Cup earlier this year, which made global headlines, would act as an inspiration to the men’s team.
- The mood of the fan is… one of anticipation.
- The greatest thing about this team is… they are fearless.
- Watch out for: David Harte, the 2015 and 2016 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year will be vital to Irish hopes.
China : World Rank 17
China are the unknown quantity of the tournament, having never competed at all at a major international event before. In that perspective, it’ll be exciting to see what they bring to the table.
Almost three-fourth of the squad is aged under 25, which shows that coach Kim Sang Ryul is investing in the future.
- The mood of the fan is… *opens the fool’s guide to hockey*
- The greatest thing about this team is… they’ll be the mystery box challenge in the World Cup.
- Watch out for: Du Talake. The drag-flicker has been China’s top goal-scorer in recent tournaments.
GROUP C : Belgium, Canada, India, South Africa
Belgium : World Rank 3
It’s tough to conclude what to make of this Belgian squad. On one hand, they are the Olympic silver medalists; a set of prodigious players who have the potential to be the world’s best.
On the other, they risk going down as an underachieving bunch who promised so much but won precious little. Bhubaneswar presents them with another chance to win something big. Question is, can they do it?
- The mood of the fan is… one of anxiety.
- The greatest thing about this team is… exceptionally talented in every aspect of the game.
- Watch out for: John-John Dohmen – the engine that drives the Belgian juggernaut.
India : World Rank 5
They can best be described as a schizophrenic side; a team that can play some tantalizing hockey on one day and be the absolute worst on the next. Harendra Singh has named a rather inexperienced squad.
How they deal with the pressure of playing an event of this magnitude at home will go a long way in deciding where India finish this World Cup.
- The mood of the fan is… no late goals, please!
- The greatest thing about this team is… it’s quick and fit, hence a great counter-attacking unit.
- Watch out for: Akashdeep Singh – might not score as many goals as he would like but has been setting up for his teammates consistently.
South Africa : World Rank 15
Coached by Englishman Mark Hopkins, South Africa won the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt last year, which secured their place in the World Cup.
Financial constraints and lack of regular competition have pegged them back in the last few years. The team, in fact, has trained together just for a week before the World Cup. Not an ideal scenario heading into the tournament.
- The mood of the fan is… just happy they’re allowed to compete after repeated Olympic snubs!
- The greatest thing about this team is… Several experienced players.
- Watch out for: Maico Casella – Austin Smith, who holds the defence together and also a potent drag-flicker.
Canada : World Rank 11
Canada return to the World Cup after eight years, having missed on the 2014 edition. They’re an unpredictable side but have troubled some top sides, mostly India, in the last couple of years. Whether Canada, can repeat the same in Bhubaneswar remains to be seen.
- The mood of the fan is… there’s hockey without ice too?
- The greatest thing about this team is... ability to trouble higher-ranked teams.
- Watch out for: Scott Tupper, a great tackler who can control the game from the back.
GROUP D : Germany, Netherlands, Pakistan, Malaysia
Germany : World Rank 6
By their own high standards, Germany have underachieved in the last two years. Like Australia, they too have endured an uncertain phase, which witnessed changes in the coaching staff.
Yet, they are among the favourites going into the tournament. Germany have always been the crowd favourites in Bhubaneswar, something that should work in their favour. Anything less than podium finish should be a disappointment for them.
- The mood of the fan is… resurgent!
- The greatest thing about this team is... the ability to comeback from the dead…ask New Zealand!
- Watch out for: Tobias Hauke, a skillful and intelligent midfielder who was key to Germany winning the 2008 and 2012 Olympic titles.
Holland : World Rank 4
Their past performances in the World Cup make them an automatic favourite for the title. Holland have always stepped up their game during the quadrennial event regardless of their form in the build up to the tournament.
Coached by Max Caldas, they possess enough depth and quality in their side to go one better than their performance four years ago and lift the trophy on December 16.
- The mood of the fan is… not another silver, please!
- The greatest thing about this team is… solid defensive organisation.
- Watch out for: With his powerful drag-flicks, Mink van der Weerden possesses a huge threat to all teams from penalty corner situations.
Pakistan : World Rank 13
The financial crisis that had gripped the Pakistan Hockey Federation nearly derailed the team’s World Cup journey. But they eventually got a sponsor on board, and after all the speculation, Pakistan are here.
After a disappointing year, they showed signs of promise at the Asian Champions Trophy but how much of a challenge they can pose at the World Cup remains to be seen.
- The mood of the fan is... just glad to be here!
- The greatest thing about this team is… its unpredictability and fighting spirit.
- Watch out for: Muhammad Rizwan Sr, the attack-minded midfielder who routine creates chances for the strikers.
Malaysia : World Rank 12
They have punched above their weight for quite some time now but Malaysia have lacked the ability to consistently challenge the world’s best teams.
They hired former Holland, India and Pakistan coach Roelant Oltmans to lead the team at the World Cup, but the Dutchman has barely had any time with the team. Still, Malaysia can emerge as the surprise element of this World Cup.
- The mood of the fan is… desperate for a big win!
- The greatest thing about this team is… ability to punch above its weight.
- Watch out for: Faizal Saari, a quick, skillful attacker who consistently gets into goal-scoring positions.
The World Cup 2018 schedule
The Hockey World Cup 2018 Schedule can be found here. Teams have been organized into four pools (A through D). You can check out the Hockey World Cup 2018 Squad Guide here. For all Hockey World Cup 2018 Live updates, follow us below: