Hockey World Cup: The storylines to follow beyond team India

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Former Netherlands coach Max Caldas moving to Spain. Spain coach Frederic Soyez joining France. And France coach Jeroen Delmee taking charge of the team he once captained – the Netherlands – thus completing a coaching merry-go-round.

Between the last World Cup, in 2018, and now, nearly all top teams have had changes at the helm, with India being one of the exceptions, which must be a new feeling for them given their frequently turbulent past when it comes to coaches.

Apart from the Netherlands, Spain and France, England, Germany and world champions Belgium, too, are here with new coaches, with Paul Revington, André Henning and Michel van den Heuvel in charge, respectively. For all these coaches, the World Cup is the first real test and how it’ll play out remains to be seen.

England, the dark horse

The Netherlands, under Delmee, seem to be finding their way to the top once again after finishing sixth at the Tokyo Olympics. With only a handful of players surviving the reboot since Tokyo, Delmee has infused the Dutch with young blood, but they got a reality check after getting beaten by England recently in the Pro League.

England will be a dark horse, having notched up some impressive performances of late, including at last year’s Commonwealth Games, where they played out two high-scoring thrillers against India, their opponents on Sunday, and stretched Australia to the limit. England have reached the semi-finals of the last three editions of the World Cup and the Revington-coached side will be hoping to go the extra mile this time, especially since the Netherlands and Germany seem to be in a rebuilding phase.

Can France continue their forward march?

One of the biggest hockey stories of the last decade has been the rise of France, who enjoy playing in India. Their remarkable run began in New Delhi exactly a decade ago, when they reached the final of the Junior World Cup, losing to Germany. Those players went on to form the core of the senior team, which impressed in the 2018 World Cup.

Returning to the big stage after 28 years, France upset the likes of Spain and Argentina to reach the quarter-finals and as they build towards the Paris Olympics, Soyez’s side will be itching to repeat that performance, if not better it.

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Their task won’t be easy, however, having been clubbed along with the mighty Australians, the unpredictable Argentinians and a South African side that is on a high, having recently won the FIH Nations Cup.

Another Belgium-Australia final?

Despite the intense battle among the top five-six nations, a repeat of the Tokyo Olympics final looks very much on the cards. Australia and Belgium seem to be a notch above the rest.

Belgium have, in the past five years, won every major title on offer – the World Cup in 2018, the European Championship in 2019, the Pro League in 2020-21 and the Olympics in 2021. With a stable team which is watertight in defence and lethal up front, the odds are stacked in Belgium’s favour to defend their title.

The only team that, on paper, is capable of stopping them is Australia – who nearly defeated them in the Olympic final that went into tie-breakers. The most consistent side of the last three decades or so, Australia showed just how good and dangerous they are at the CWG last year.

It’s the clichéd immovable object taking on an unbeatable force kind of a battle and it’ll take a brave person to bet against a Belgium-Australia final.

GROUPS

Pool A: Australia, Argentina, France, South Africa

Pool B: Belgium, Germany, Japan, South Korea

Pool C: Chile, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand

Pool D: England, India, Spain, Wales

Friday’s fixtures

1pm: Argentina vs South Africa

3pm: Australia vs France

5pm: England vs Wales

7pm: India vs Spain


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