For the first time ever, a stellar hockey event was staged in the unassuming city of Raipur in India. The Raipur International Hockey Stadium was seen and approved as a dedicated hockey facility in August last year. A team of FIH officials visited Raipur and expressed satisfaction on the venue’s worthiness of staging the crucial world event. The Hockey World Finals began on November 27 and concluded on December 6, 2015. Eight national hockey teams participated in the event. These teams had already qualified 2016 Rio Olympic Games after HWL Semi-Finals in Buenos Aires and Antwerp. People of Raipur watched world-class action from FIH top-ranked Australia, world no.2 Netherlands, no.3 Germany, no.4 Belgium, no.5 Great Britain, no.6 Argentina, no.8 India and no.13 Canada. As if to justify their highest world ranking, Australia won the gold medal beating Belgium in the final on Sunday. Hosts India dished out a poor performance at Group-stage but bounced back creditably in the knock-out phase and clinched the Bronze by beating the Netherlands. Argentina finished fifth ahead of Great Britain, Germany and Canada.
India were bracketed in Pool B along with Argentina, Germany and Netherlands. In the inaugural match on November 27, the hosts suffered a 0-3 loss against Argentina. India drew 1-1 against Germany and lost 1-3 to Netherlands. With a winless show, India finished last in Pool-B. Netherlands and Argentina both won 2 out of their 3 matches but the Dutch topped the Pool on goal difference. Great Britain topped Pool A while Australia, Belgium and Canada finished second, third and fourth respectively.
As per the tournament format, India met Pool-A toppers Great Britain in quarterfinals. While their league-phase performance was uninspiring, India stunned Britain with a brilliant play, when it mattered most. Egged on by a packed Raipur crowd, India went on the offensive from start and VR Raghunath put India 1-0 ahead by converting the 19th minute penalty corner. Just after halftime, Ramandeep Singh could have made it 2-0 but his shot hit the crossbar. India’s forward line combined well while defenders thwarted some dangerous moves by British forwards. In the 39th minute, India’s Talwinder Singh doubled India’s lead, when he scored from an acute angle after picking up a long overhead pass from Kothajit Khandangbam. With 8 minutes left for the final buzzer, Britain’s Simon Mantell reduced the deficit to 2-1 but India avoided any further damage in the remaining time.
Joining India in the semifinals were; Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands. Australia defeated Germany 4-1; Belgium beat Argentina 2-1 and Netherlands defeated Canada 2-0. India faced Belgium in the semifinal on December 5 and hoped to end their 35-year long wait to reach the finals of a major event. But despite another good show, the hosts lost 0-1 against the Red Lions. Belgian forwards dominated play in most part of the first quarter and scored the only goal in 5th minute, when Cedric Charlier advanced menacingly from the right flank and struck a backhand shot between the legs of Indian goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. Despite their much improved performance in the last two quarters; India failed to find the equalizer. Belgium thus set up the gold-medal clash with Australia, who defeated Netherlands 3-2 in the other semifinal.
In the final on Sunday, Australia defeated Belgium 2-1 to emerge as 2015 Hero Hockey World League champions. Australia dominated early and their efforts were rewarded in the opening minute of second quarter, when Jeremy Hayward succeeded in converting a penalty corner. The reigning World champions doubled their lead soon after halftime from another penalty corner and this time it was Dawson, who converted. It could have been 3-0 for the Kookaburras but a goal-line clearance by Belgium’s Emmanuel Stockbroekx prevented that goal. Belgium rallied towards the end and cut the deficit in the last minute, when Gougnard converted the penalty corner for the Red Lions but the hooter sounded soon and Australians began their celebrations.
Earlier the losing semifinalists India and the Netherlands clashed in the Bronze-medal match, that ended in India’s favor. As the start, it looked as though India were destined to suffer another loss in the tournament as the Dutch dominated proceedings in the first two quarters. They forked out a 2-0 lead with goals from Mirco Pruijser and Niek van der Schoot. In what could be branded as the tournament’s best match, India stormed back in third and fourth quarters. Ramandeep Singh was the first to score for India before Rupinder Pal Singh equalized through a penalty corner. Ramandeep scored once more as India took a 3-2 lead and the crowd went wild. But when Mink van der Weerden equalized with six minutes remaining, a big drama ensued. Rupinder scored his second goal followed by Akashdeep Singh and India went 5-3 ahead. With hardly any time left, Van der Weerden made the score 5-5 with a late double strike that also brought a hat-trick to him. It was now time for the thrilling shoot-out. India’s goalkeeper Sreejesh was simply brilliant as he forced errors from Jeroen Hertzberger, Mirco Pruijser and Valentin Verga. On their part, Birendra Lakra, Sardar Singh and Rupinder all scored with Rupinder scoring from penalty stroke after Manpreet Singh was fouled. With India sealing a famous victory and winning the bronze, the supporters at Raipur couldn’t have asked for more.
The Bronze medal match and final brought the curtains down on a high quality hockey week at Raipur’s International Hockey Stadium. The city had the privilege of watching big stars from around the world display their skills on the field. Australia’s Jamie Dwyer was named Hero Best Player of the tournament, with Belgium’s Arthur van Doren taking NMDC Best Junior award. Netherlands shot-stopper Jaap Stockmann was named SECL Best Goalkeeper while Gonzalo Peillat of Argentina finished as Hero Top Scorer with eight goals. The NTPC Fans’ Choice Award was claimed by Indian goalkeeper Sreejesh.