The Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final is about to burst into 10 days of high tempo sporting action. This is the end-of-year showpiece event with the
eight teams who finished in top place after two year of Hockey World League action.
The 2017 Hockey World League season began with the round one events in 2016, where 43 teams took part, from as far afield as Peru and Oman.
Round two whittled the number of teams down further so that by the time it was the Hockey World League Semi-Finals, 20 teams were left
standing. From the two Semi-Final events, held win London and Johannesburg, the top four teams at each venue qualified for the grand Final.
Which brings the creme de la creme of the hockey world to the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India.
Here are the pools and the teams.
Pool A: Argentina (World Ranking:1), Netherlands (WR:4), Belgium (WR:3) Spain (WR:9)
Pool B: Australia (WR:2) England (WR:7) Germany (WR: 5) India (WR:6)
Argentina come to the Hockey World League Final looking to improve upon their fifth place finish in this event two years ago.
Then the team was ranked sixth in the world but an Olympic Gold medal in 2016 and gold at the 2017 Pan Am Cup means Argentina
now occupy the number one spot and will hope to solidify that. They are a team bristling with talent, but the one to watch
is a relative newcomer to Los Leones, Maico Casella is pacey, tricky and has an unerring sense of where the goal is. He
starred at the Junior Hockey World Cup in 2016 and has now sealed his place in the senior squad.
Australia are on the hunt for their world number one status, a position they lost on the back of an appalling Olympic Games
in Rio, where they finished sixth. A third place at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg was followed
by a comprehensive retention of the Oceania Cup at the expense of New Zealand, but this is a team that is now in search
of more major global medals. There are some big names and some big reputations in the Kookaburra’s squad, not least
their ever-green captain Mark Knowles. One player who always catches the eye with his razor sharp reactions and intelligent
play is Jake Whetton – a tricky forward whose darting movements will keep defenders on their toes.
Belgium are on an ever-upwards trajectory. They are currently ranked three in the FIH Hero World Rankings following
a win at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg and silver at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships. With
attack-minded players such as Sebastien Dockier and Tom Boon in their ranks, the Red Lions are always going threaten
the opposition’s goal but the presence of 2016 Rising Star Arthur van Doren in defence means they are also composed
and difficult to break down in their own circle.
England have two third place finishes to their name this year, winning bronze at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships
just a few weeks after they won the same colour medal at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final on home
turf in London. This is already an improvement on a string of fourth place finishes in recent years and
this new crop of players has enormous potential to become regulars on the podium. Liam Ansell, James Gall
and James Albery are all exciting new names on the team sheet but at 397 caps (combined England and Great
Britain), in Barry Middleton, there is little doubt where the experience in the side will be coming from.
England’s danger player upfront is the bustling forward Sam Ward, who seems able to contour shots from
seemingly impossible angles.
Germany are always in the frame when it comes to major tournaments and expect it to be no different in
Bhubaneswar. That said, a fourth place finish at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships was well below the
standard that head coach Stefan Kermas would be looking for. Their second place finish at the Hockey
World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg is a far better indicator of what this team can do. The squad
has experience and composure in the form of Tobias Hauke, Martin Zwicker, Martin Haner and Florian
Fuchs but for many the two standout stars of this team are the creative midfielder Mats Grambusch and
the sharp-shooting Christopher Ruhr.
As host nation, India will have the hopes of thousands of hockey fans on their shoulders but it is
a pressure under which the team thrives. India on home soil is both a joy to watch and a lesson
in hockey skills. India won the Asia Cup earlier this year, the first time since 2007 and the team,
led by Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne will be hoping to end the year on a high point. Harmanpreet Singh
is one of a number of young India players who are taking on responsibility for the future success
of this hockey-loving nation. He was integral to India’s victory at the Uttar Pradesh Hockey Junior
World Cup in 2016 and was joint top scorer at the Asia Cup in 2017.
On current form, Netherlands will be one of the early favourites for the title in Bhubaneswar.
The men in orange finished first at the Hero Hockey World League in London, then a few weeks
later, they beat Belgium in the finals of the Rabo EuroHockey Championships. Head coach Max
Caldas has a glittering array of talent at his disposal, from the veterans of the team such
as Mink van der Warden and Robbert Kemperman, through to young stars such as Thierry Brinkmann
and Joep de Mol. One man who has become a superstar within a team of stars is the hot-shot
striker Mirco Pruijser who regularly tops the leading goal scorer tables at major internationals.
Spain finished fourth in the Hockey World League Final in Johannesburg and there are all the
signs that the Red Sticks, under head coach Frederic Soyez, are in the hunt for medals
after a few years in the wilderness. There last major international medal was silver at
the Beijing Olympics and one of that Olympic squad, Sergi Enrique, will be instrumental
in pushing Spain to a podium finish here in Bhubaneswar. The experienced defender, who
is Spain’s most capped player, is a classy defender who can play the role of creative midfielder
when required. Along with Pau Quemada, Miguel Delas and ‘keeper Quico Cortes, Spain have
a wealth of experience to call upon.
The matches start on 1 December with Germany taking on England (16:45 local time) and Australia
facing the host nation India (19:30). The matches are being broadcast across the world
via various broadcast outlets. The matches are also available on the FIH YouTube channel.