2018’s been a topsy-turvy year for Indian hockey. As it began, a slew of big tournaments lay in waiting for the men in blue. But apart from the Asian Champions Trophy, which they shared with arch-rivals Pakistan, India haven’t won a multi-nation tournament this year. They also missed directly qualifying for the 2020 Olympics after failing to defend their Asian Games gold medal.
All these add to India’s pressure as they host the Hockey World Cup, starting on November 28. The least expectation from the team, ranked fifth in the world, is to make the semi-finals. But even to make the last-eight might be a little tricky for India, for their group has the Olympic silver-medallists Belgium, Canada (who held the Indians to a draw in Rio Olympics) and South Africa (the easiest of the lot, on paper).
Here’s a look at all the teams in Group C:-
The 2016 Olympic silver-medallists are among the title contenders. The Red Lions have, from their silver-medal winning squad, Cedric Charlier, Tom Boon, John-John Dohmen, Thomas Briels, Simon Gougnard, Felix Denayer and Vincent Vanasch – all world-class players. The addition of Arthur van Doren – FIH’s Player of the Year in 2017 – makes them a formidable unit. Belgium’s World Cup record over the last two decades testify their rise in world hockey. In 2002, they finished 14th. The next two editions, they did not participate. In The Hague, four years ago, they finished fifth. After clinching the silver medal at Rio and winning gold at the Hockey World League Semi-Final, wherein they thrashed European rivals Germany 6-1, the Red Lions will look to make a mark in the World Cup.
Squad: Loic van Doren (GK), Arthur van Doren, John-John Dohmen, Florent van Aubel, Sebastien Dockier, Cedric Charlier, Gauthier Boccard, Nicolas de Kerpel, Emmanuel Stockbroekx, Alexander Hendrickx, Thomas Briels (C), Felix Denayer, Vincent Vanasch (GK), Simon Gougnard, Arthur de Sloover, Loick Luypaert, Victor Wegnez, Tom Boon.
World ranking: 3
Performance in previous Olympics (2016): Finished runners-up
Performance in previous World Cup (2014): Finished fifth
Latest performance: Beat France 2-0 in a Test match
Players to watch out for: Arthur van Doren, Loick Luypaert and Thomas Briels.
On paper, Canada might seem a weak team in Group C, compared to heavyweights Belgium and hosts India. Most of the players from the Canadian squad don’t have the experience of playing in a World Cup. Canada had missed the 2014 edition. In 2010, they finished 11th.
But it would be unwise to count the Canadians out of last-eight contention. The Indians know this all too well. For, they lost – after leading 2-1 – to them in the Hockey World League Semi-Final 2017 in London last year.
Canada also defeated the then seventh-ranked New Zealand in Hockey World League in 2015. So, the Canadians, coached by Paul Bundy, will be the dark horses of Group C. With over 500 international caps between them, veterans Scott Tupper, Mark Pearson and ace goalkeeper David Carter will lead the Red Caribou in the World Cup.
Squad: Brandon Pereira, Scott Tupper (C), Gabriel Ho-Garcia, Oliver Scholfield, Richard Hildreth, Keegan Pereira, Balraj Panesar, Gordon Johnston, Brenden Bissett, Jamesh Wallace, Mark Pearson, Matthew Sarmento, John Smythe, Iain Smythe, James Kirkpatrick, Sukhi Panesar, David Carter (GK), Antoni Kindler (GK).
World ranking: 11
Performance in previous Olympics (2016): Finished 11th
Performance in previous World Cup (2014): Did not qualify
Latest performance: Beat New Zealand 2-1 in a four-match series
Players to watch out for: Scott Tupper, Mark Pearson and Keegan Pereira.
India will be hosting their second World Cup in this decade after the 12th edition of the tournament, in 2010, was held in New Delhi. But a lot has changed in the last eight years. The build-up to this year’s tournament is perhaps unmatched by the previous ones. Social media’s abuzz, an anthem’s been composed by the nation’s most popular music icon – AR Rahman and a plethora of promotional events are being planned in the lead-up to the tournament. There’s a lot of expectation from coach Harendra Singh and his boys. India’s 1975 World Cup winning captain Ajitpal Singh said the Manpreet Singh-led team should at least make the semi-final. India, of course, have the talent to go all the way. But they’ve had a topsy-turvy year and are yet to prove their mettle in big tournaments. After disappointing in the Asian Games, the World Cup is a moment of reckoning for Harendra and his boys.
Squad: Harmanpreet Singh, Dilpreet Singh, Kothajit, Surender Kumar, Manpreet Singh (C), Hardik Singh, Simranjeet Singh, Mandeep Singh, Lalit Upadhyay, PR Sreejesh (GK), Sumit, Nilakanta Sharma, Krishan Pathak (GK), Varun Kumar, Birendra Lakra, Akashdeep Singh, Chinglensana, Amit Rohidas
World ranking: 5
Performance in previous Olympics (2016): Finished eighth
Performance in previous World Cup (2014): Finished ninth
Latest performance: Joint-winners of Asian Champions Trophy
Players to watch out for: Akashdeep Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh and Manpreet Singh.
South Africa have featured in every edition of the World Cup since 1994. They have finished 10th twice (1994 and 2010), 12th (2006), 13th in 2002 and 11th in the last edition in The Hague. For this edition, they qualified after beating Egypt 2-1 in a thrilling final of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. The odds are against the South Africans in Group C but they will count on captain Tim Drummond, Taine Paton, Jethro Eustice and Julian Hykes to steer the team to the knock out stage.
Squad: Tyson Dlungwana, Austin Smith, Owen Mvimbi, Tim Drummond (C), Nduduza Lembethe, Julian Hykes, Tom Hammond, Keenan Horne, Dayaan Cassiem, Rhett Halkett, Richard Pautz, Ryan Juilius, Taylor Dart, Taine Paton, Mohamed Mea, Lance Louw, Eustice Jethro, Daniel Bell, Rassie Pieterse (GK), Nicholas Spooner, Nqobile Ntuli, Gowan Jones (GK)
World ranking: 15
Performance in previous Olympics (2016): Did not qualify
Performance in previous World Cup (2014): Finished 11th
Latest performance: Lost 0-2 to France in a four-match series
Players to watch out for: Tim Drummond, Austin Smith and Julian Hykes.