The Indian men's hockey team ended a long wait for an Olympic medal by winning a bronze at the Tokyo Games in 2021. The team also bagged a silver at the 2022 Commonwealth Games (CWG). The expectations are naturally high as the Indians embark on a World Cup campaign at home.
Goalkeeper P R Sreejesh, one of the pillars of the Indian team, will be playing in his fourth World Cup and third at home. The 34-year-old Keralite has won almost everything except a World Cup medal.
“The team is confident and fully prepared. We have the advantage of playing at home too. But having said that we are placed in one of the toughest pools. Both England and Spain are equally dangerous opponents. We meet them in the first two games before facing Wales. There are no easy games for sure,” Sreejesh told Onmanorama over the phone from Rourkela.
India are placed in Group D along with England, Spain and Wales. The hosts meet Spain in their opening match at Rourkela on Friday.
Sreejesh said that the performances in the FIH Pro League constantly affect the world rankings. “Right now we are ranked sixth. Had we been placed higher, we would have had lesser teams to contend with. As I said we have no time to relax in this World Cup and in this format.”
The four group-toppers will seal direct entries into the quarterfinals, while the second and third-placed teams will fight it out in the cross-over games for a place in the last eight.“The format is such that every goal scored and every goal conceded could affect your knockout chances. Every point has to be earned the hard way,” said Sreejesh.
India have failed to qualify for the semifinals of the World Cup after their triumph in the 1975 edition.“We know that India have not won a World Cup medal for a long time (48 years). But if you think about it, that will only add extra pressure on the team. We will take it one game at a time,” said Sreejesh.
India have found Australia too hot to handle both at the Tokyo Olympics and Birmingham CWG. Australia thrashed India 7-1 in the group stage at Tokyo, while the Kookaburras routed them 7-0 in the CWG final. Sreejesh said that the ultra-aggressive approach of the Australians hurt the Indian team.
“The Aussies are on the attack from the word go. They unsettle you and slowly the pressure of falling behind affects your game. We are a team who need a bit of time to get going. We have learnt our lessons and put up a spirited display in the recent Test series in Australia. Though we lost the series 4-1, we fought hard,” added Sreejesh.