Odisha Hockey World Cup: India to take on Spain in their opening fixture
Rourkela, January 12, 2023
India has their task cut out when they take on Spain in their opening Men's Hockey World Cup Group D fixture at the newly constructed Birsa Munda Stadium here on Friday.
The two other teams in this pool are England and debutants Wales. In the latest FIH World rankings England has overtaken India to occupy the fifth position, while the latter are on sixth, with Spain and Wales at eight and fifteen, respectively.
Both India and Spain have played in every edition of the World Cup in tandem with Germany and the Netherlands since the tournament's inception at Barcelona in 1971.
In their six previous World Cup clashes, India have won twice, with the Los Redsticks victors in three while their last match in the 2014 edition at The Hague ended in a 1-1 draw.
In the ongoing FIH Pro League, the two squads won a match apiece last November-December, with India winning the second one from the shootout. Spain have retained fifteen from that squad while India have made five changes to their eighteen members.
Even though India will depend heavily on the penalty corner marksmanship of skipper Harmanpreet Singh, the absence of another world class drag flicker may be sorely felt. The squad also has Varun Kumar, Amit Rohidas and Nilam Sanjeep Xess in their ranks but they do not enjoy the reputation of topnotch quality flickers. It is however hoped that there would be an improvement on their conversion skills after a short camp in late December at Bengaluru with twice Dutch Olympic gold medallist Bram Lomans.
India's midfield will be marshalled by former skipper Manpreet Singh playing his third World Cup with 314 caps, twice FIH Young Player of the Year 22 year old Vivek Sagar Prasad, railwayman Nilakanta Sharma, Hardik Singh and Shamsher Singh. The wily striker Akashdeep Singh, also playing his third World Cup, returns in national colours as an overlapping attacking medio.
Mandeep Singh with 96 goals will channelize the strike force alongside the Punjab National Bank duo of Abhishek and Sukhjeet Singh besides Lalit Upadhyay who is back after injury.
Sreejesh, as the seniormost member, will again be the go to man for the home team. The 34 year old Kerala Sports Officer, also playing his third World Cup, will be the last line of defence with Krishan Pathak who has been fielded by coach Graham Reid in every alternate playing quarter since long. The two custodians who have 354 caps between them with Sreejesh accounting for 274, were recently fine tuned by Dennis van de Pol from the Dutch Drijver Goalie Academy.
Spain, like India, also have three podium finishes but no golds. Twice runners-up and a bronze medal finisher, they have midfielders Alvaro Iglesias and Marc Miralles as co-captains.
The goal will be manned by experienced Mario Garin with the deep defence under the charge of Club de Campo's Ignacio Rodriguez, Alejandro Alonso and 23 year old Pau Cunill who is also the first choice flicker.
The Spanish offensive armada will be spearheaded by Enrique Gonzalez, Rotterdam striker Joaquin Menini and Marc Reyne from Real Club de Polo Barcelona.
The Los Redsticks will have to hold themselves from the ignominy of their worst ever finish at thirteenth in the last edition at Bhubaneswar in 2018.
Spain is 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.
They followed that success with a superb start to their 2022-23 FIH Pro League campaign by going unbeaten in their first four games, claiming notable victories over New Zealand and India in matches that took place in the World Cup host city of Bhubaneswar.
They have come to Odisha having played six Internationals against World Cup qualified teams at San Fernando last month before final pre-departure conditioning at Alicante.
Coach Maximiliano Caldas from Argentina who switched over after coaching the Netherlands squad, said, "We are a very diverse group with youth and experience. The preparation has gone as we wanted and we are prepared for what is coming to us, also to play against India in a stadium with 20,000 people."
Captain Alvaro Iglesias said, "I see only positive things and ambition in this team. And we have many rookies, who come from the U-21 who give us a lot of energy."
Before this match, the blue turf at the stadium will come alive with strong contender England facing debutant Wales in the first group D match of the competition.
On Friday morning at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, former Olympic champions Argentina will clash with spirited South Africa in a Pool "A" fixture. The second match of the group and day will be between former champions Australia and France.