Special to PlanetFieldHockey.
On March 15, 1975 at Kuala Lumpur, India wrote a Hockey history by winning the Hockey World Cup. It defeated archrival Pakistan 2-1 in the keenly contested final and walked away with glittering trophy. It is once again in Kuala Lumpur, the world?s top 16 nations are assembling on February 24 to vie for top honours in Hockey. Will this venue once again prove lucky for India? This is the biggest question shaking the minds of Hockey followers in this country. Millions of them have started praying for the repeat of 1975 magic.
In the recent past India has done well on Hockey field. Started with a spectacular victory in the Junior World Cup in October 2001 at Hobart, Australia, Indian Hockey has gained momentum and seemed to be on right track. A few weeks ago Indian seniors too brought honour to the country by winning the inaugural Champions Challenge Trophy and earning a place among the elite six after a gap of five years, for Champions
Trophy slated at Cologne later this year. This splendid showing of Indian Juniors and Seniors in a short span, has injected the enthusiasm in the ill nerves of Indian Hockey and ignited hopes of return of old Indian magic.
India has been placed in Group B along with Australia, England, S Korea, Poland, Japan, Malaysia and Cuba. Looking at the names one has the impression that the pool is relatively easy as none of the fearsome big fours like Holland, Germany, Pakistan and Spain are there. The draw also favours the likes of Indian Hockey team as they open their campaign against Japan on the opening day of the world Cup ? February 24. Japan has returned the world Cup after a gap of 29 years. They last participated in the World Cup in 1973 at Amsterdam.
India must take advantage of its opening fixture and start its campaign with an impressive victory. In past Japan has never been a threat to India but they are now no minnow in the World Hockey. They have improved a lot and can cause any sort of upsets. They have given an alarming indication of it in the Champions Challenge Trophy by defeating S Africa in a crucial Pool match. Despite this fact and their improvement in technique and skill, India must come out triumphant with beautiful margin.
The next match against S Korea will be a do or die affair for India. This match will decide the faith of India for the future course of the World Cup. Twice Asian Games champion S Korea is a most dangerous and fittest side in the world. Their kit is overloaded with some eye-catching performances in the recent past. They won silver medal in the Sydney Olympic Games and also finished runner up to Germany in last year?s Sultan Azlan Shah championship. Their performance against India has been splendid. India had lost both the matches played the two countries since Sydney Olympics. But now India is completely a changed team beaming with confidence and on the other hand a considerable decline in S Korea?s performance has been seen during the Champions Trophy where they finished a poor sixth losing all their five games. S Korea has the ability of bouncing back so that their Champions Trophy performance should not be taken as a good sign for India. Their forward line is very agile and functions like a well-oiled machine. Their penalty corner ?s conversion rate is also good in comparison to India. As this match is a crucial one for both the teams so there will be equal pressure on both the sides. The team, who will be able to sustain the pressure and take advantage of the chances coming their way, will emerge victor. The chances for India are 50-50.
Malaysia will be India?s next opponent in the pool. On its surface Malaysia has always performed meritoriously. It reached SF and took fourth position in the World Cup, held at the same venue in 1975. It won silver medal in the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Their performance against India has been good on their home soil. They managed to beat India in the Semi Finals of the Commonwealth Games in 1998. They again defeated India in the recently concluded Champions Challenge Trophy competition. These results suggest being cautious against this Asian rival who also play the traditional Asian style of Hockey. India must win this match, as it cannot afford losing or even drawing the match.
India has always come good against England in World Cup competitions. India has never lost to Englishmen in their four earlier meetings in World Cups. India has won all the three matches played between the two countries at Kuala Lumpur including 1975 World Cup pool match. Both teams met twice at Kuala Lumpur last year and India emerged victor in both of them. This time too India should come out a clear winner.
Cuba is a new comer to the World Cup. It has qualified for the World Cup at the cost of Canada and by virtue of being Pan American Champion. There is no doubt in any one?s mind of India?s victory in this match but the point of main interest will be the margin of victory. By the time India take on this weakest rival of the pool, the position in the group would have been clear so it must help India in taking most of the advantage out of this game.
India next meets Poland ? a rough tough European team. It has always troubled India and provided stiff resistance in key matches. It is still fresh in the memory of hockey lovers , how it had crushed the Indian hopes of making the semi finals to dust in the last league encounter of Sydney Olympics with a last minute goal. Out of three World Cup matches against them, although India won two but had suffered a humiliating defeat at London in 1986. India has never defeated this European rival in all of their three outings in the Olympic Games. Recently too India got a blow in Edinburgh qualifier when in went down 1-2 to this ?giant?. Looking to these embarrassing results India has to chalk up a robust game plan and strategy before battling out this rival. This match will be a real examination for Cedric?s ability as a coach and schemer.
India takes on Australia in its final league match. The gap between India and Australia has become considerable wide during the last decade. In the matches that mattered most India surrendered meekly to its counter part. India has never defeated Australia in World Cup after 1978. Many consider Australia as a natural qualifier from this group, so this match obviously occupies a prime importance. It will be good if India manage to draw the match.
Indian team is a good bunch of young and experienced players. Juniors who have been elevated to the senior ranks are the country?s most promising and talented players. Indian defence with experienced Lazarus Barla, Dilip Tirkey and young Jugraj Singh is more stout and compact. Midfielders are the main strength of the Indian side. Sukhbir Singh Gill, Baljit Singh Saini and Arjun Halappa are more determined and resourceful. With the presence of Dhanrej Pillay and young striker Deepak Thakur Indian forward line seem to be more spirited, effective and vigorous. Jugraj Singh who is a find of the Junior World Cup, is converting the penalty corners with good percentage of success. His drag-flick technique must work wonders for India.
India is going to Kuala Lumpur with the hopes of repeating the magic of 1975. may be it is too much to expect from this Indian team. But surely no less than a place in the semi finals would satisfy the Indian Hockey lovers. It is the high time to do justice to their potential as well as favourable draw in the World Cup.
Hereunder are some vital statistics of the countries placed in Pool B and Indian performance against them in the World Cup:-
Countries comprising pool B in the World Cup
Country World Cups
played M W D L GF GA Best
India 9 63 31 9 23 129 110 winner-1975
Australia8 56 38 5 13 166 80 winner-1994
England 8 57 25 9 23 99 92 second-1986
Poland 5 36 10 3 23 62 114 8th -1982/86
Malaysia5 36 8 7 21 45 85 4th - 1975
S Korea 2 14 3 4 7 28 33 7th - 1998
Japan 2 12 3 2 7 9 25 9th - 1971
India?s performance against its Pool rivals in World
Rival Country Fist match and
its result M W D L GF GA
Japan 1973, won 5-0 1 1 -- -- 5 0
S Korea 1994, won 2-0 2 1 -- 1 5 4
Malaysia 1975, won 3-2 2 2 -- -- 9 4
England 1975, won 2-1 4 3 1 -- 8 4
Poland 1978, won 3-1 3 2 -- 1 8 4
Australia 1975, drawn1-1 5 1 1 3 6 12
Cuba no match
India?s performance against its Pool rivals since
Sydney Olympic Games
Date Venue Rival Country Result
11.03.2001 Dhaka Japan India won 3-1
10.07.2001 Milton Keynes Japan India won 4-3
24.08.2001 Edinburgh Japan India won 2-0
29.08.2001 Edinburgh Japan India won 4-3
12.12.2001 Kuala Lumpur Japan India won 3-2
21.09.2000 Sydney S Korea India lost 0-2
10.08.2001 Kuala Lumpur S Korea India lost 0-3
02.06.2001 Ipoh Malaysia India won 2-1
04.06.2001 Malacca Malaysia drawn 0-0
06.06.2001 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia drawn 1-1
07.06.2001 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia drawn 2-2
02.08.2001 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia drawn 2-2
10.12.2001 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia India lost 1-2
28.09.2000 Sydney England India lost 1-2
08.08.2001 Kuala Lumpur England India won 2-1
12.08.2001 Kuala Lumpur England India won 2-1
26.09.2000 Sydney Poland drawn 1-1
25.08.2001 Edinburgh Poland India lost 1-2
19.09.2000 Sydney Australia drawn 1-1
07.08.2001 Kuala Lumpur Australia India lost 2-3
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