With the Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final, Bhubaneswar, about to burst into 10 days of high tempo sporting action, we take a look at the eight teams taking part and the players who will be stealing the show at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, India.
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. The striker 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 conjour 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 spectators, 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 difficult team to beat. India won the Asia Cup earlier this year, the first time since 2007, and the team, led by Dutchman Sjoerd Marine, 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.