FIH Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup | Zafar Iqbal restrains from picking a favorite, says India has task cut out
Zafar Iqbal was one of the new members of the Indian Men's Hockey Team when he was given the responsibility of representing the nation in the 1978 Men's Hockey World Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Prior to the World Cup, he had participated in the test series against the Netherlands.
"I played my first game in the test series against the Netherlands at home in 1977. After that we had a few test series overseas before travelling to Argentina," Iqbal recalled.
He went on to say that the team travelled to Argentina with the intent of defending the title. With several members of the 1975 World Cup-winning squad still on the roster, there was a strong belief that India would be a strong contender for the trophy.
"All we wanted to do was to defend the trophy successfully. That was our only motivation before going into the tournament. There were several new players on the team and we were quite eager to perform on the big stage. There were also players from the 1975 World Cup team in our squad, and we were confident," Iqbal said.
India lost their opening encounter against Canada in the tournament, before getting a win over Australia. But a 0-7 defeat against West Germany followed by a 1-1 draw against England, sealed India's fate and they were unable to qualify for the Semi-Finals.
"Despite playing well in the tournament, we lost a few easy games. We were unable to get wins over England and Germany and were unable to reach the Semi-Finals. It was a big blow for us at the time because we were the defending Champions," Iqbal recalled.
India lost their final encounter in the tournament against Spain and finished in the sixth position in the tournament. Iqbal, who also competed in the 1982 Men's Hockey World Cup in Mumbai, went on to explain how hockey began to change in the 1970s and 1980s.
"During our time, hockey was played on the grass. But astroturf started replacing grass in most parts of the world as the 80s came around. Even though the 1982 World Cup was played on grass at home, we were unable to perform our best, and were unable to qualify for the Semi-Finals once again," Iqbal further said.
"Now, AstroTurf has converted hockey into a game of power. The players need to be fitter and require more energy. We had to adapt ourselves to the European style of attacking hockey now. We had to change with the passage of time. Once Astro Turf was introduced, we had to adjust according to the turf," Iqbal added.
With the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 just around the corner, which is set to take place starting from January 13th, Iqbal revealed his favourites for the tournament. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, and Wales are the 16 teams, who will be competing in the tournament.
"At the world-level competitions, you never know who will be at the top form. Several teams are very strong such as Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, England, Spain, and India," Iqbal said.
He further said that the ongoing football World Cup is a testament that any team can be successful on any given day. "Former World Champions Spain, Germany, and Brazil have all been eliminated at the football World Cup. You never know which team can get a win over which team in such tournaments. It is always unpredictable and FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023 is unpredictable as well," he added.
India are placed in Group D along with Spain, England, and Wales. Iqbal believes that it is a tough group for India. "We will have tough matches in the group stages. We have Spain, England, and Wales, and all are equally strong in their own right," Iqbal said.
"I am sure if India finishes on the podium, it will be a great achievement for Hockey India. We have several gutsy players on the team, who always put in their best, and who were the heroes of the Tokyo Olympics. So, we hope they can repeat the success once again," he signed off.