Odisha Hockey World Cup: Belgium, Germany main contenders in Pool B
New Delhi, January 7, 2023
The two best teams each of Europe and Asia -- defending champions Belgium, two-time winners Germany, Asian Games gold medallist Japan and Asia Cup winner South Korea -- form the interesting and intriguing pool B of the Odisha Hockey World Cup to be played at Bhubneswar and Rourkela from January 13-29.
The winner of the pool will straightaway qualify for the quarter-finals, while second and third placed teams will be involved in an additional cross-over round to make it to the knock-out round.
One of the best things to happen to modern hockey is the rise of Belgium as a one of the game's powerhouses in the world. In the past five years, the team, also called Red Lions, have won every major title on offer, including the World Cup in 2018, the Olympic Games (2021), the European Championship (2019) and the FIH Pro League (2020-21).
The team, coached by Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel, contains some of the finest players and proven winners. In Vincent Vanasch and Loic Van Doren, they have two world class goalkeepers, while Arthur Van Doren, Victor Wegnez, Felix Denayer, Florent Van Aubel, John-John Dohmen, Alexander Hendrickx, Arthur de Sloover and Tom Boon are all extraordinary talents.
Given their strength and depth in every department, it will be tough to dethrone Belgium as they start favourites for the title.
Germany, with four Olympic gold medals, two World Cups and eight European titles, have a very impressive and dominating record in international hockey. Tactically astute and technically superb, "Die Honamas" tend to hit form at Olympic Games and World Cups, something they have not done in recent years and will be hoping to repeat here.
Attackers Niklas Wellen , Christopher Rühr, captain Mats Grambusch and penalty corner weapon Gonzalo Peillat – the man who fired Argentina to Olympic gold at Rio 2016 – and goalkeeper Alexander Stadler are just a handful of the world class players at the disposal of head coach Andre Henning.
Japan is returning to the World Cup after a gap of 16 years. Their last apperance in the tournament was at Mönchengladbach 2006. The Samurais are keen to remind everyone of their considerable talents.
The 2018 Asian Games gold medallists displayed their fearsome attacking unit in Tokyo Olympics 2020 and were unlucky to crash out in the competition pool phase.
The team that competes here is considerably less experienced than the one that took to the Olympic turf in Tokyo, with 11 players having fewer than 50 caps and ten athletes being aged between 18 and 23.
Thirty-year-old captain Seren Tanaka is one of six players to have surpassed the 100 caps marker, alongside goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa, Shota Yamada, Masaki Ohashi, Hiromasa Ochiai and Koji Yamasaki, all of whom competed at Tokyo 2020.
Japan, who sealed their place at this World Cup with a fourth-place finish at the 2022 Asia Cup, were recently in action at the Nations Cup in South Africa, recording wins against Canada and Pakistan on their way to a sixth-place finish.
The team is coached by Akira Takahashi, who represented Japan at the 2002 World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, and was Head Coach of the Samurais four years later in Mönchengladbach.
Former Asian Games champion Korea beat Malaysia to win the 2022 Asia Cup to qualify for the World Cup.
Koreans have been involved in two high profile competitions in recent months, with Malaysia gaining a measure of revenge by defeating the Koreans 3-2 in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in November.
The Korea-Malaysia rivalry continued a couple of weeks later at the inaugural FIH Hockey Nations Cup, with evergreen 39-year-old captain Namyong Lee on the scoresheet as Korea recorded a superb 4-0 victory in the bronze medal game.
While a bronze medal was not good enough for Korea to secure a berth in the next edition of the Pro League, their solid performances at that competition in South Africa provided plenty of evidence that Korea are a team that should not be underestimated.