LAHORE - Pakistan hockey team will open the Hockey World Cup 2018 campaign in Bhubaneswar, India today (Saturday), when they will take on Germany in the opener.

Four time World Cup winners Pakistan are currently 13th ranked while the Germans, the two time winners, are placed sixth in the FIH rankings. The two sides have met eight times at the World Cup. In 1982, they came across twice, in pool game and the final. Pakistan have won five (including the penalty shootout win at 1994 semifinal). Germany have been victorious the other three times.

In 1973 third place playoff, Germany beat Pakistan 1-0, in 1975 semifinal, Pakistan beat Germany 5-1, in 1978 semifinal, Pakistan beat Germany 1-0, in 1982 pool match, Pakistan beat Germany 5-3, in 1980 final, Pakistan beat Germany 3-1, in 1990 pool match, Germany beat Pakistan 1-0, in 1994 semifinal, Pakistan beat Germany on penalty shootout after 1-1 draw while in 2002 pool match, Germany beat Pakistan 3-2.  After winning four of the first eight World Cups, Pakistan’s fortunes have failed to reach semifinal since 1994. On the contrary, Germany have been a consistent performer. After finishing fifth in the inaugural World Cup, they made at least to the semis in each of the next 11 editions, before missing out during the last World Cup in 2014 when they ended sixth. Germans also didn’t do well at the last Euro Hockey Nations Championships in 2017 where they were fourth. It was their first out of podium finish in the biennial event since 2007. In fact, Germany had won two and ended runners-up the other two times in the intervening four Euro Hockey Nations Championships.

The German hockey team might not be doing well in recent times by its own standards but they start as the favourites against Pakistan, ranked seven places below. Pakistan can surprise Germans if they reproduce the form displayed at this year’s Champions Trophy where they defeated Olympic Champions Argentina, drew against World number three Belgium and lost only 1-2 to the World Champions and No 1 ranked Australia.

The much hyped pool D, also called group of death, consisting of three former champions – Pakistan (4) Netherlands (3) Germany (2) – who share 9 of the 13 titles of the Hockey World Cup between themselves, will come into play in the 14th edition of the tournament at Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar on Saturday.

A close look at the tournament format shows that Pool D is no group of death the way it is understood in Football World Cup parlance. Here pool topper gets direct entry into the quarter finals and the fourth team gets eliminated. While second and third placed teams remain alive to play the crossovers with teams from another group. Thus, there is a possibility that teams finishing second and third in same pool making it to the finals.

Pakistan, ranked 13, have a daunting task ahead. The four times champion had finished with the wooden spoon in their last WC appearance at Delhi in 2010, one worse than their 11th place at Willesden in 1986. Penalty corner striker of yore Tauqeer Dar, head coach of Pakistan team, said: “We are under no pressure, we are not overawed by Germany. In fact, we fancy our chances against them. A win today (Saturday) will keep us alive in the tournament,” he added. Germany, who are also 4 time Olympic and eight -time European champions, may not look formidable but no team can afford to underestimated them.“My team is mix of youth and experience. We are in the process of rebuilding,” said German coach Stefan Karmas. “We hope to start the campaign with full points.”