The Indian hockey team start their FIH 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup campaign on Friday, 13 January, with a match against Spain. The hosts could only go as far as the quarter-final in the last edition of the biggest global hockey event. They lost to the eventual runners-up Netherlands in the last-eight match in the 2018 edition.
Spain, on the other hand, got eliminated from the first round itself, finishing at the bottom of their pool. This time around, they will face an Indian team which is looking to take forward the legacy of winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, their first Olympic medal since 1982.
Both teams faced each other twice in the FIH Pro League last year, at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Spain won the first match 3-2 while the second game ended in a 2-2 draw, before India took the shootout 3-1.
Spain may have got the better of the Indians in their FIH Pro League encounters, but with this being the hockey World Cup, the Indian team will bring its A-game. It promises to be an exciting match.
While the overall performance of the team as a whole will decide the outcome, some key players might have a large say in the contest. Looking ahead at the contest, we’ll check out three player battles that will be key in deciding who comes out on top in India’s hockey World Cup opener.
#1 Adrian Rafi vs Harmanpreet Singh
India have been over-reliant for scoring goals on their penalty corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh. The sturdy defender is also the captain and hence, needs to deliver again for his team. When he takes his position during a PC routine in India’s first hockey World Cup match, he will be up against Adrian Rafi, the Spanish goalkeeper.
Rafi is a very capable goalkeeper. But he is up against one of the world’s best drag-flickers in Harmanpreet. If the Spanish goalie is able to keep the India skipper down in the scoring department, it would compound India’s problems. So, this contest will be very important.
#2 Enrique Gonzalez vs Jarmanpreet Singh
Jarmanpreet Singh has emerged as one of India’s most important players in the post-Tokyo Olympics period. The big Sardar plays mainly as a defender but makes his presence felt all over the field.
Against Spain, he will have to try and put a stop to the dangerous runs that Spain’s Enrique Gonzalez can produce. The Spanish midfielder has the ability to slice through the midfield at rapid pace and open up the opposition’s defence.
Jarmanpreet, with his agility and skill, will have to ensure that Gonzalez is stopped in his tracks before he could inflict any damage.
#3 Krishan Pathak vs Marc Miralles
The ongoing edition of the FIH Pro League has seen India’s Krishan Pathak, an understudy of PR Sreejesh for a long time, come of age. His goalkeeping in the first few matches of the league has been exceptional and he may be the preferred option for India in the upcoming Hockey World Cup.
His biggest test, as is usual for a goalkeeper, would come against penalty corners. When the set-piece comes around, he is likely to be up against Marc Miralles, the drag-flick specialist in the Spanish side.
If Pathak continues his good form in this hockey World Cup and manages to keep the PC goals down to a minimum, India will gain a huge boost. With the talent he possesses, Pathak cannot be underestimated.