In the afternoon of Friday December 5, 2014, 8 captains of the participating nations came to Bhubaneswar’s Kalinga Stadium for an unveiling ceremony of the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy and to set the stage for one week of top men’s hockey action. The participating teams are; Argentina, Australia, Belgium, England, Germany, Holland, India and Pakistan. No one can doubt that that the champions’ trophy is the real test of the best hockey talent in the world. Standards in the game of hockey are in ascendency and differences between any two top 10 teams are getting narrower by the day. Although Germany, Holland and Australia are usually considered as best hockey nations, Argentina, Belgium and England are fast catching up. Despite a transition from artistic to modern hockey having left India and Pakistan behind, these two nations are doing their utmost in standing up to the modern requirements in the game. India’s recent performance against Australia is a case in point. Playing a series away from their homeland, India emerged as a better team in a recently concluded series.
The inaugural match will feature Australia and England on Saturday December 6 and England’s captain Barry Middleton was brimming with confidence, when he said that he could not wait to take the field against the Kookaburras. Middleton added that his squad was a bunch of talented youngsters, who have proved their worth through league hockey and showed their willingness to win during the training. With Olympic qualifiers coming up in six months’ time, England will be ready for any challenge as per Middleton.
Australia’s coach Graham Reid is working hard to come up with a side that will have a mixture of bright stars and youthful enthusiasm. Reid feels that the champions’ trophy is all about regeneration and he wants to utilize the opportunity to experiment with new players, who might not have had such chances until now. Australia had a warm-up win against Argentina and Reid is convinced that he would not let go of the tag of the world champions as his team takes on England in the first game on Saturday.
In the second game on December 6, Belgium has to face Pakistan and Belgium’s coach Jeroen Delmee is confident of beating their rivals. Belgium had a big 4-0 win over Germany in the practice match, much to Delmee’s delight and the coach said he was satisfied with the preparation of his team. But Delmee also knows that practice game scores could be misleading and the real test comes only when the real action takes place. Therefore, the Belgian coach is keeping his fingers crossed and his concentration is directed at team preparations involving adjustments with zonal time difference and tropical weather in India, which is vastly different from Europe.
Pakistani captain Muhammad Imran wants to look beyond history and he is looking ahead to renewing rivalries with some of the world’s best hockey teams. Imran is confident that his side would be able to put up the right challenge to any side in the world. Pakistan hockey has been on decline for a while but Imran exuded confidence, when he said that old statistics do not bother him since the Champions’ Trophy would be fought on equal terms.
The captain of the Netherlands Rob van der Horst was happy that his team benefitted from 10 days of preparations in India that included weather acclimatization. Horst is confident that the Dutch side was in the best shape to take on their Argentinian counterparts. The young Dutch side is bubbling with enthusiasm as they take on Argentina on day one. Of all world’s hockey teams, Argentina have showed the most remarkable progress during this summer’s World Cup in grabbing the Bronze medal and they are confident that their performance in the champions’ trophy would be better than their World Cup outing.
Host India have a tough challenge in their first game against Germany in the last game on December 6. Despite the certainty of the overwhelming home support, it would be a tough game for India. After the success in Australia, India’s captain Sardar Singh has been heavily sought after by the media and the huge press media chasing him did not come as a surprise in Bhubaneswar on Friday.