The 16 best men’s teams from around the world are converging in Odisha, India, as we 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 comes 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 D and the unique playing styles they will bring to the World Cup:
After years of sliding down the FIH World Rankings which culminated in failure to qualify for the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 – a competition that they had won a record eight times – India are back at the top table of the global game. A bronze medal at the delayed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was a landmark moment for the team, who followed it up with a third-place finish in the 2021-22 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League.
Head coach Graham Reid is getting the best out of the group, injecting a tactical discipline to their trademark skilful, fluid playing style, making them a team both respected and feared in equal measure. The star of the show is Harmanpreet Singh, a fabulous defender and one of the best drag flickers in the game, who has also taken on the mantle of captain for the team. Meanwhile goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, midfield ace Manpreet Singh and striker Mandeep Singh are all capable of game-changing moments on their own as well.
Despite the undeniable pressure that comes with being the competition hosts, this India team has all the attributes needed to claim their first FIH Men’s World Cup title since 1975.
Having participated in every edition of the FIH Men’s World Cup, England are always capable of achieving great things. They have reached the semi-finals of the last three World Cup competitions but missed the podium on each occasion. That is something they will be desperate to change this time around, as they aim to secure a first FIH Men’s World Cup medal since grabbing silver at the 1986 event on home soil in Willesden, London. They certainly have a very good squad of players, but first need to navigate their way out of a tricky pool that contains home favourites India, in-form Spain, and neighbours Wales.
England – coached by Paul Revington, former head coach of South Africa and Malaysia men and assistant coach to Great Britain women – were outstanding at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, with striker Nick Bandurak finishing as the competition’s top scorer with 11 goals as his team snatched the bronze medal. Only one team managed to defeat the Englishmen in that competition, with the mighty Australia – a side that have only ever won gold in the Commonwealths – overturning a two-goal deficit in the semi-final to triumph 3-2. Captain Zach Wallace, midfield ace Phil Roper and attacker Sam Ward were all key players in Birmingham and will be hoping to replicate that form in Odisha. If they do, the sky is the limit.
Known for their flair, skill, and attacking prowess, the Red Sticks men are one of the most talented and unpredictable teams out there, having proven on countless occasions that, on their day, they can mix it with the very best teams in the world. As well as having rare talents such as electrifying attacker Enrique Gonzalez, experienced midfielder Marc Miralles and classy captain Alvaro Iglesias, they are also blessed with a revered head coach in Max Caldas, who enjoyed terrific success with the Netherlands women and men, guiding the former to World Cup and Olympic glory and the latter to two European Championship titles.
In August 2022, the Red Sticks showed strong form at the recent EuroHockey Championship Qualifier competition on home soil in Orense, beating Czech Republic, Portugal, and Poland to seal their ticket to the 2023 EuroHockey Championship. The team scored 20 times without conceding in that competition, with Pau Cunill (Rising Star nominee – FIH Hockey Stars Awards 2021-22), Iglesias and former Argentina international and 2016 Olympic gold medallist Joaquin Menini each scoring three times.
They followed that success with a superb start to their 2022-23 FIH Hockey Pro League campaign by going unbeaten in their first four games, claiming notable victories over New Zealand and Pool C rivals India in matches that took place in the World Cup host city of Bhubaneswar.
After decades of trying, Wales finally secured a first ever FIH Men’s World Cup qualification thanks to a tournament winning display at the European Qualification event on home soil in Cardiff. After claiming a 2-0 win against Italy in their quarter-final, Wales went head-to-head with Ireland, with the winner taking not only a place in the competition final but also one of the two World Cup tickets on offer at the event.
Wales fell behind in the very first minute of the match when Michael Robson fired home, but Joe Naughalty’s equaliser early in the second quarter proved to be enough to send the match to a winner-takes-all shoot-out. Successful efforts from Rupert Shipperley and Jack Pritchard gave Wales a 2-1 lead ahead of the final round, with goalkeeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterill doing enough to deny Ireland’s Lee Cole and create a moment of Welsh sporting history.
The team finished the competition on a glorious high by recording a 2-1 victory over higher ranked France, fighting back from a goal down thanks to goals from Luke Hawker and Shipperley, the latter arriving just five minutes from the end.
Current Great Britain internationals Shipperley and Jacob Draper are both key players for Wales, as is penalty corner specialist Gareth Furlong, who is a regular source of goals. Despite being one of the lowest ranked teams in this competition, Wales have proven themselves more than capable of punching above their weight and are certainly not here to make up the numbers.