Huge hoardings of the tournament and key players welcome arrivals at the Biju Pattnaik international airport in the city. From here till the Kalinga Stadium, where the Hockey World League Finals would be played, the roads are flanked by more of the same. The Odisha state government and the organisers have made sure the city knows it is hosting a big sporting event.
The city has taken note. Tickets for the first day – both Rs 50 and Rs 250 denominations – are sold out. As are tickets for every day India is in action during the tournament, and the knockouts. “Online sales were out within hours. This counter did the same by the end of the day,” said the sales representative at the counter outside the stadium.
READ: 'The focus is to get intensity higher,' says coach Marijne
The crowds have also made a note of the Indian team and its training schedule, duly splashed by the local media across its sports pages. The warm-up match against England on Tuesday evening had almost 200 people watching. There were enough people at the Belgium-Germany practice game as well, more than what some domestic tournaments manage.
The Indian coach was happy with the preparations. Sjoerd Marijne has been seeking consistency from the team and pushing them harder for his first big challenge with the side, regardless of the Asia Cup triumph. “We did good yesterday, we were better today. That’s what we are pushing for, getting better with every game. Every time we enter a tournament we try to go for the medals, that’s normal for every athlete. If we do that, the development process will automatically follow,” Marijne said after the 3-quarters practice match that ended in a 1-1 draw.
He was also satisfied with the recovery and performances of the players returning from injury. Local favourite Birendra Lakra would be playing a major world-level tournament after almost one and a half years, having torn his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) couple of months before the Rio Olympics. He did make a brief comeback during the Asian Champions Trophy but hurt the same knee again, delaying his return to action. Rupinder Pal Singh too returns from a groin injury and both would be teaming up after a long time in the defence.
READ: Birendra Lakra returns to action on home turf
“It might look that Bob (Rupinder) played more but they were pretty close in terms of minutes on field. I am absolutely satisfied with the recovery of the players and their match fitness. Of course the competition would be at a different level here compared to the Asia Cup but for us it is all about going all out for the best results in every outing,” Marijne added.
The last time the city hosted a major tournament was the Champions Trophy that saw India finish fourth after losing to Pakistan in an ugly semifinal that triggered a major face-off between the two federations which continues till today and has meant no contact between the sides and a PHF-alleged ‘Indian conspiracy’ to keep its side out of the Junior World Cup last year.
It was a huge success back then and, going by the interest among the general public so far, it seems set to repeat after three years. The Indian team, however, would be hoping for better results.