The 16 best men’s teams from around the world are converging in Odisha, India as the countdown to the final few days till the start of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023. Each team comes with the aim of becoming world champions, but only one team can earn the highest honour at the end of the World Cup.
The first obstacle for all 16 teams in the event come in the form of their pool opponents. Winning the pool gives the teams a huge advantage, as it leads to straight qualification into the quarterfinals, while second and third placed teams play an additional cross-over round.
Here’s a look at the teams in Pool A and the unique playing styles they will bring to the World Cup:
The Olympic champions from Rio 2016 are Pan American hockey’s most potent force, having been crowned continental champions on 14 separate occasions. With a swashbuckling style and incredible technical ability, Los Leones can match any team on the planet. The team is coached by former Argentina goalkeeper Mariano Ronconi, who will do all he can to lead his talented group to a first men’s World Cup title.
Agustin Mazzilli, Lucas Vila and team captain Matias Rey – named Player of the Tournament as his team swept to victory in the 2022 Men’s Pan American Cup in Santiago, Chile to seal their ticket to this event – remain outstanding performers despite being well into their 30s. The team recorded a notable 2-1 victory over reigning Olympic and World champions Belgium in November, providing a timely reminder that they can match the best in the business. Can Argentina emulate their men’s football team by winning a World Cup on Asian soil?
The Kookaburras are the most consistently outstanding men’s hockey team of the last 30 years, having remained in the top four of the FIH World Rankings for the duration of that period. They have won every prize available, including Olympic, World Cup, FIH Hockey Pro League and Oceania Cup titles.
In 2022, the side coached by former striker Colin Batch claimed a sensational seventh Commonwealth Games title, obliterating a hugely talented India team 7-0 in the event final in Birmingham. Nathan Ephraums and Jacob Anderson, the latter a travelling reserve for this event, both scored twice with Blake Govers, Tom Wickham and Flynn Ogilvie also netting in typically devastating displays from the brilliant Aussies. A shoot-out loss to Belgium in the gold medal match at the delayed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was painful, but may serve as motivation as the brilliant Aussies go in search of a record-equalling fourth world title.
In 2018, France arrived in Bhubaneswar for their first FIH Men’s World Cup for 28 years, with their last appearance coming at 1990 competition in Lahore, Pakistan, where they finished seventh. Having been drawn in the same pool as Rio 2016 Olympic champions Argentina, Spain, and New Zealand, many expected them to be on the first plane out of India. However, after suffering a narrow defeat against the Black Sticks, Les Bleus achieved a set of results which would see them go all the way to the World Cup quarter finals. A draw with higher-ranked Spain was followed by a stunning 5-3 victory over Argentina, sealing their place in the knock-out stages of the competition, where they beat China to set up a last eight meeting with Australia. Although the mighty Kookaburras brought France’s magnificent run to an end, they left the competition with their heads held high, having earned respect from everyone who saw them in action.
Since then, France – who are building towards the Olympic Games Paris 2024, where they will compete as hosts – have been going from strength to strength. They competed in the 2021-22 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, registering wins against India, South Africa, and Argentina before earning their ticket to this event with a second-place finish at the European Qualification event in Cardiff, won by hosts Wales. A fifth-place finish at the recent FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup South Africa 2022 event was perhaps below expectations, but with the likes of penalty corner ace Victor Charlet and seasoned talent Gaspard Baumgarten, France will be a dangerous outfit here in Odisha.
Following their superb title victory in the recent FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup, earning them a ticket to the next edition of the elite FIH Hockey Pro League, South Africa have every reason to believe that they can achieve big things here in Odisha. The tournament hosts finished top of the pile on home soil in Potchefstroom, recording victories over Pakistan, France, and Korea before claiming a thrilling 4-3 win against Ireland – who they had lost to earlier in the competition – in the competition final. Inspirational 23-year-old captain Dayaan Cassiem scored twice in the title match, with younger sibling Mustaphaa netting a penalty stroke won by his big brother.
The outrageously gifted Cassiem brothers may be the poster boys of this hugely exciting new generation, but the team is far from reliant on them. Striker Tevin Kok is proving himself to be a reliable source of goals, while 33-year-old defender Jethro Eustice brings a steady, experienced head to a group brimming with youth and talent.