The business end of the ongoing Hockey World Cup gets underway on Wednesday with the first set of quarter-finals in Bhubaneshwar. Defending champion Australia take on France, the surprise package of the tournament, while Olympic champions Argentina play England.
Indian hockey great Sardar Singh previews the two quarter-finals and said that he expects the two higher-ranked teams to progress to the semis. The former India captain insisted that while anything can happen in the quarter-finals, given how fast modern hockey is, the more energetic team will have the better chance of victory.
He singled out Australia’s attacking brand of hockey as the clinching factor in the quarter-finals against France, who defeated Argentina in the group stages.
“The Australian team play with an attacking style and it is tough to stop them. Their pressing especially the full pressing, the way they put pressure on the ball-carrier, it is the best in the world. France has started well but it will be different in the quarter-finals, I think Australia will beat France easily,” he said in a video interview.
Asked about what exactly sets the Kookaburras apart, the former Indian captain explained how it is their strategic play. “The Australian players are individually very good as well and when the individual players are good, it is easier for the team to perform as an unit. Their body language when they enter the ground, their stick to their plan through the four quarters and their attacking brand of hockey – which used to our style in India and Pakistan – playing on the turn over of their opponents, snatching the ball from them and forcing mistakes. Attacking hockey and the full press set Australia apart,” he added.
While Australia vs France may be a bit of a foregone conclusion, Sardar expects Argentina vs England to be more competitive, adding that the fitter team will win the contest.
“Argentina are the Olympic champions and have played against Gonzalo Peillat for many years. As a team, Argentina bank on penalty corners in their play and their forwards are very skillful. Lucas Vila and Agustin Mazzilli try to get as many PC’s as they can and then they have Gonzalo who is one of the best PC specialists,” he said.
“England are a fast-paced team as well. So I think it is going to be all about energy...
The team that puts more energy and follows the strategy, the tasks the coaches have assigned to them and follows it from the first whistle to the last will win. Such matches are won by the team that put in extra efforts,” he said.
Sardar doesn’t think there will be too many upsets in the tournament.
“The lower-ranked team put up a fight for a few quarters but the world’s best ranked teams play with patience. They understand that it is only a matter of a couple of quarters where the other teams will make it hard but the good teams focus on ball rotation and automatically the other teams start crumbling,” he explained.