By Shrikant Bhagvatula
Mumbai, Jan 8 (SocialNews.XYZ) With just about a week to go before the start of the 15th edition of the FIH Men's Hockey World Cup, the Indian team is going full-throttle with their training, giving final touches to their preparations.
Here is a SWOT analysis of the Indian hockey team ahead of the FIH World Cup:
Playing at home and with the partisan crowd in Odisha acting like the 12th player, the Indian players will be a formidable opponent for any team on their day. They are quite familiar with the Kalinga Stadium and though the Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela is new, the players are currently camped in Rourkela, getting a feel of the conditions.
Coach Graham Reid has assembled a fighting unit in the last couple of years, bringing a bunch of experienced players with eight players in the squad with more than 100 caps.
The team has a strong nucleus with former captain Manpreet Singh being the most-capped player with 314 appearances, while goalkeeper P.R. Sreejesh has played 274 games. In Harmanpreet Singh, the team has a world-class drag-flicker, who has been named the FIH Player of the Year for his recent success.
If playing at home and in front of a massive crowd gives the players a big kick, it has a negative impact too as the huge expectations can also be counter-productive -- with the pressure getting to the players and impacting their game.
The team's defence is a bit suspect and the Indian squad has the propensity to concede late goals by succumbing to relentless pressure. Harmanpreet Singh is a great drag-flicker but other penalty corner experts like Amit Rohidas and Varun Kumar are not that consistent. If Harmanpreet has an off day, India may struggle to score goals.
The team's attacking style of play is its strength, but the players tend to lose shape under pressure and thus concede goals. Reid needs to constantly work on the mental framework of his defenders to keep them on their toes.
The World Cup is the biggest chance for the players to gain immortality and end India's medal drought in the process. Placed in Group D with Spain, England and Wales, India will open their campaign against Spain on January 13.
It will be a good opportunity for the Indian team to test its preparations. Though India got the better of the Spaniards in the Pro League recently, the World Cup is a motivation to do well and the Spanish players too will be motivated to win the first match.
The immediate aim should be to make it to the quarterfinals by topping the group. Finishing second or third in the four-team group will take the team into the cross-over matches, which means more threats to their chances. Thus, India will have to be on their toes and win all their preliminary league matches to seal a direct berth in the quarters.
The major threat for the team comes from within, with the pressure of huge expectations at times proving detrimental to their hopes. The major threats otherwise are defending champions Belgium, World No. 1 Australia, and the Netherlands and Germany.
The players are young and ambitious. They have prepared well and are raring to go. The opponents are quite strong and one can't take any opponent lightly. This is a great opportunity for the players to gain immortality by winning the title. But the task is tough.