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Hockey World League preview: India looking good for a semi-final spot

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Hockey World League preview: India looking good for a semi-final spot

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Amlan Majumdar

11/26/2015

Raipur will host the second edition of the Hockey World League (HWL) Finals, scheduled to start from November 27. Eight of the best teams in the world will dazzle the crowd at the recently inaugurated Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Stadium with India and Argentina starring in the opening game of the tournament on Friday.

What happened in HWL last year...

Netherlands defeated New Zealand 7-2 in the final of the inaugural Hockey World League, played in New Dehi, to become the first winner of this ambitious new tournament. As many as 54 teams participated in the 2012-13 season of the HWL, and after 121 matches, 1067 goals, played across 16 different nations over a period of two years, Netherlands were crowned as the champions.

India had automatically qualified for the finals as the host nation despite struggling in the semifinals held at Rotterdam. In the finals, India finished fourth in Pool A after failing to win any of their three games, behind England, Germany and New Zealand. The men in blue managed a sixth place finish in the final ranking of the season.

India's form heading into the tournament

India faltered against higher ranked opponents in the Hockey World League semi-finals at Belgium, and their defence in general, or the lack of it, had come under a lot of criticism. Things have, however, improved for the national team under the leadership of Roelant Oltmans.

Following the unceremonious departure of former coach Paul van Ass, after a spat with Hockey India President Narinder Batra, Oltmans has brought a sense of calm in the dressing room. His previous stint as the High Performance Director has enabled him to form amicable relationships with the players, and they have responded on the field.

After the HWL semi-finals, the Indian team went on a Euro trip to face France and Spain in a series of matches. They won four of the five matches during that trip in August, and it was a bright start to Oltmans' reign at the helm, albeit against relatively weak opponents.

In October, India toured New Zealand for a Test series. After stumbling to a 0-2 defeat in their opening game, India won two back-to-back games, and drew the fourth Test to win the series. The big test, however, was waiting for them at home, where they hosted the World Number 1 Australian team in a three-match Test series.

The team produced gritty performances, specially in the last Test, to level the series 1-1, before the Aussies won the penalty shoot-out for the series decider. There were, however, a lot of positives to take away from that series, namely the performances of goalie PR Sreejesh, VR Raghunath's stellar form in penalty corners and India's fluid attack. The likes of SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh showed a lot of promise and threatened the Australian defence time and again.

The defence, however, remains a cause for concern, and as Sardar Singh pointed out earlier this month, the whole team needs to work together as a unit to provide Sreejesh with more protection at goal.

Prediction: India to reach the semi-final

All of the three teams in India's group are higher ranked, and it will be a tough job for Oltmans' men to finish any higher than third in Pool B- they can expect to close higher than only Argentina. This means they could set-up a clash against either England or Belgium, as Australia are shoo-ins to top Pool A, in the quarter-final. India will fancy their chances against either of these two teams at the moment. The Men in blue are likely to reach the semi-finals realistically, while we hope they accomplish more in the tournament.

The format

The format was slightly changed for the 2014-15 season as 56 teams participated in the event, compared to 54 competitors last season. For this season, the top 11 teams, according to FIH rankings at the start of 2013, received a bye to the semi-finals, including India, who were ranked 11 at that point. In the semifinals there were two tournaments of eight teams each.

Teams ranked between 12 and 19 went through to the second round, while the rest of the teams participated in the opening round of qualifying matches. The finals will be an eight-team affair, divided into two pools of four with classification matches.

This year's HWL so far...

Qualifiers from round 1: Russia, Switzerland, Belarus, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Oman, Egypt, Chile, Mexico, Austria, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago

Qualifiers from round 2: Malaysia, Poland, Japan, Ireland, Austria, Canada, China, France, Egypt

Teams who qualified from the first semi-finals: Germany, Argentina, Netherlands, Canada

Teams who qualified from the Second semi-finals: Australia, Belgium, England, India

India were placed in Pool A of the semi-finals event that took place in Belgium, back in June, along with Australia, Pakistan, France and Poland. The Men in blue finished second in the group with seven points in four games to set-up a clash against Malaysia in the quarter-final. India came from behind to win that match 3-2 with Jasjit Singh Kular scoring a brace. In the semi-final they faced the hosts, Belgium, and crashed to a humbling 0-4 defeat.

India faced England in the third-fourth place play-off and they suffered another massive 5-1 loss. Despite the defeat, India booked their place in the final as the fourth placed team, and also as the host of the finals.

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