BHUBANESWAR - Field hockey’s elite are set for an exciting tussle in India from Saturday as dominant Australia seek an incredible sixth successive Champions Trophy title. The eastern city of Bhubaneshwar hosts the prestigious eight-nation invitation tournament regarded as the third biggest prize in the sport after the Olympics and the World Cup.
Aiming to better their third-place finish in the last edition of the Champions Trophy hockey tournament, Pakistan will take on Belgium in the opening match at Kalinga Stadium, here today (Saturday). Clubbed in Pool A alongside holders Australia, Belgium and England, the Men in Green will also be looking to climb up the rankings ladder after lying 11th in the FIH charts.
With the ‘Green Shirts’ having a medal haul of 16 in Champions Trophy , Pakistan clinched a bronze in the 2012 edition after defeating India 3-2 in a high voltage medal game. The team has an outstanding record of winning gold in the first and the second season of the Champions Trophy out of the total three.
The team also adds to its name the three gold medal finishes in Olympics and four gold wins in the World Cup. Whereas, the Red Lions presently standing at the 4th position in the FIH ranking, it took the fifth place over Germany in the last season played in Melbourne. With the fifth place finish in the London Olympics, the 2012 Champions Trophy and this year’s World Cup, they have done well to confirm their growing conviction that they are among the leading hockey nations.
The two teams faced each other in the previous season of the Champions Trophy where Pakistan blanked Belgium with a score of 2-0. As both the teams are coming out to be strong contenders not leaving any chance to utilise their practice sessions, they are expecting to finish the tournament on a winning note to go a step further.
Speaking on match against Belgium , Captain M Imran said: “While tomorrow’s clash will be a tough one keeping in mind that Belgium has been playing good hockey recently, this still will not deter us from playing as a unit and aiming for a win. We have experienced players in our team and we will utilise this to our benefit in this tournament.”
Speaking on the team’s opening match, Belgium coach Jeroen Delmee said, “Pakistan is a good competition and we are looking forward to start with a win. While the team is geared up for the tournament, we are putting in our best efforts in overcoming our challenges. We certainly aim to get a medal finish in this tournament.”
Commenting on the team’s preparation ahead of the first match, Belgium captain Dohmen John-John said, “We have been improving our game and we have some steady progress in few areas. I am sure it’s going to be an exciting opening match against Pakistan . I wish the team performs with enthusiasms which makes possible for us to pull off a win against them.
With the World Cup held at the Hague in the Netherlands in June, the nine-day competition gives respective coaches an opportunity to look ahead and rebuild for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Australia showcased their undisputed prowess when they retained both the World Cup title and the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow earlier this year.
But a field that includes five other nations that have won an Olympic gold — Germany, the Netherlands, England, India and Pakistan — besides the fast-improving Belgium and Argentina, opens up the competition at the Champions Trophy . The Kookaburras wear a new look in the absence of veterans Liam de Young and Rob Hammond, who retired after the World Cup, and five-time world player of the year Jamie Dwyer and Mark Knowles, who are both injured.
Graham Reid, who replaced the legendary Ric Charlesworth as head coach earlier this year, insisted he was focused on rebuilding a young team for the future. “As I said earlier, we are using the Champions Trophy as another opportunity to expose our younger players to the rigours of international competition,” said Reid.
Reigning Olympic champions Germany will bank on one of the most gifted squads in the competition to bounce back after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the World Cup. Moritz Furste, world player of the year in 2012, returns after missing the World Cup due to leg injury. Also in the line-up are Tobias Hauke, who won the award in 2013, and talented 20-year-old Christopher Ruhr.
The Netherlands, ranked second in the world, are hungry for a major title after finishing runners-up to Germany at the London Olympics and again to Australia at the World Cup. Coach Max Caldas, the former Argentine international who guided the Netherlands women’s team to gold medals at the Olympics and the World Cup, will look to work his magic with the men’s squad. England are relying on experienced players like Ashley Jackson and captain Barry Middleton to deliver a maiden Champions Trophy title after finishing fourth at the World Cup. Hosts India will miss their Australian coach Terry Walsh, who was controversially sacked despite leading the team to an Olympic-qualifying gold medal at the Asian Games in September.