1. The Netherlands (WR 3)
How it qualified: Gold medal 2021 EuroHockey Championships
Previous World Cups: 1971 — 6th, 1973 – Champion, 1975 – 9th, 1978 – Runner-up, 1982 – 4th, 1986 — 7th, 1990 — Champion, 1994 — Runner-up, 1998 — Champion, 2002 — 3rd, 2006 — 7th, 2010 — 3rd, 2014 — Runner-up, 2018 — Runner-up.
World Cup record against India: 7 Wins, 0 losses.
1973: The Netherlands 2(4)-2(2) India (final); 1982: The Netherlands 4-3 India (league); 1990: The Netherlands 5-3 India (league); 1994: The Netherlands 4-2 India (league); 1998: The Netherlands 5-0 India (league); 2006: The Netherlands 6-1 India (league); 2018: The Netherlands 2-1 India (quarterfinals)
Though the Netherlands has won the men’s Hockey World Cup thrice in its history, it hasn’t won it in the 21st century, last winning the title in 1998. It has come close though, finishing runner-up in both the 2014 and 2018 editions. It would be hard to bet against the side going deep into the tournament this year as well.
While the Netherlands will certainly be looking to do well in Bhubaneswar, this is a side that is looking even further in the future. The team has been rebuilt following a disappointing sixth place finish at the Tokyo Games and the 18-man squad travelling to India features only two players in their 30 — Seve van Ass (30) and goalkeeper Pirmin Blaak (34). On the face of it the Netherlands is in strong form this year. It lost just three matches outright (once each to Great Britain, Australia and Germany) while winning 18 out of 23 matches played. However a closer inspection reveals more nuance. Although the Netherlands had a great start to the year winning 13 out of 14 matches to claim the 2021-2022 Pro League title, it is coming off a tricky spell in the 2022/23 edition of the Pro League where it has just a single outright win in four matches.
What might further worry the side, which lost the 2018 World Cup final, has been its shaky performance in shootouts this year. It has been taken to shootouts in two of its Pro League matches this year and has ended up losing both of them — 1-4 to Argentina and 0-2 to Great Britain.
Two-time Olympic champion Jeroen Delmee, who took over as chief coach after the Rio Olympics saw the result as a timely wake up call.
“Of course we wanted to win those games. But I have also become much wiser so shortly before we go to India. For example, we have not often encountered a 3-0 defeat (that the Netherlands suffered against Great Britain). It’s interesting to see how the team handles such a setback,” Delmee told Hockey.nl.
Indeed there were a few positives that Delmee noticed as well. The Netherlands conceded an average of just nine circle penetrations in its four matches which Delmee noted was particularly low. “Defensively it was good. We averaged only nine circle penetrations per game. That’s very little. But offensively we were less dominant,” Delmee said. According to the coach, the Netherlands spent too much time on the ball as a result of which it failed to transition into attack in numbers. “We did better in the last game against Argentina (which Netherlands won 4-2), there was more energy,” Delmee said.
Expect a sharper side to turn up in India. “Because of the useful lessons we learned here, we will come out stronger there,” Delmee had said.
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Key man: Still only 27, captain Thierry Brinkman is one of the most experienced members of the squad and his seven goals as a striker were critical to the Netherlands’ gold medal in the 2021/22 Pro League.
2. New Zealand (WR 9)
How it qualified: Qualified on basis of world ranking after 2022 Oceania Cup was cancelled due to COVID-19
Previous World Cups: 1973 — 7th, 1975 — 7th, 1982 — 7th, 1986 — 9th, 1998 — 10th, 2002 — 9th, 2006 — 8th, 2010 — 9th, 2014 — 7th, 2018 — 9th.
World Cup record against India: 2 wins, 2 losses, 1 draws
1973: New Zealand 1-1 India (group stage); 1982: New Zealand 2-3 India (crossover stage); 1986: New Zealand 2-1 India (crossover stage); 1998: New Zealand 0-1 India (group stage); 2002: New Zealand 2-1 India (9th place playoff).
New Zealand has not performed to its true potential at the World Cup, and has never made it to the semifinals. It faces a tough task to progress beyond the last eight this time as well.
The Netherlands is the favourite to top the group stage, which will probably leave New Zealand having to battle it out with Malaysia for second place in Group C and with it a favourable draw in the crossover stage.
Even if it finishes second and makes it past the first round of the crossovers, it will likely face a stiff challenge in trans-Tasman heavyweight Australia which is expected to top Group A.
Making things worse for New Zealand is the fact that its form this year has been patchy. It lost 11 of the 15 matches it had played in 2022, only picking up outright wins against Pakistan and Wales.
It has also been on the wrong side of several one sided defeats — it scored three and conceded 19 in a four-Test series against Australia at the start of the year and a 4-7 loss to India in the Pro League. It also failed to match its silver medal from the 2018 Commonwealth Games and finished outside the medals at the Birmingham Games this year.
The drop in results has been noted with worry by several former New Zealand players. Retired Black Sticks greats Ryan Archibald and Phil Burrows, who have 670 caps between them have warned that with a lack of a developmental structure, New Zealand Hockey could potentially “fall off a cliff.” However it’s not all bad for New Zealand. While it has come up well short against Australia, New Zealand, under coach Greg Nicol, has also been entertaining with an expansive style of hockey.
While it lost three matches, it also scored 10 goals in four matches in the Pro League against Spain and India in Bhubaneswar in October and November. New Zealand even had the better of India in its first match, taking a two-goal lead and outperforming the host in terms of penalty corners won and circle penetrations made before eventually going down 4-3.
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New Zealand has also been reinforced by the return of former skipper Simon Child who rejoined the side ahead of the Pro League and, with his playmaking, made an immediate improvement to the side that had struggled to create goalscoring opportunities at the Commonwealth Games. The 34-year-old, who has scored 144 goals in 288 matches had opted out of the side for personal reasons over the last three years but is expected to be a key member of the squad that travels to Odisha.
Key man: While Child is the veteran in the team, much is expected of fellow striker Sam Lane who is expected to play a similar role in the future. The 25-year-old who plays for Orange Rood in the Dutch League has 30 goals in his international career and scored thrice in four matches of the Pro League including a brace against India.
3. Malaysia (WR 11)
How it qualified: runner-up at 2022 Asia Cup
Previous World Cups: 1973 — 11th, 1975 — 4th, 1978 — 10th, 1982 — 10th, 1998 — 11th, 2002 — 8th, 2014 — 12th, 2018 — 15th.
Record against India: 1 win, 3 losses
1975: Malaysia 2-3 India (semifinal); 1982: Malaysia 2-6 India (group stage); 2002: Malaysia 3-2 India (group stage); 2014: Malaysia 2-3 India (group stage)
Placed 11th in the world rankings, Malaysia isn’t the World Cup favourite by any stretch. However, with wins against World Cup contenders India, Japan and Korea this year, it also isn’t a side that can be taken lightly. It will be full of confidence having become the first Malaysian side to win the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament in November.
Malaysia, though, has a number of injury worries going into the World Cup. Goalkeeper Zaimi Mat Deris (hamstring), midfielder Nik Aiman Rozemi (knee) and forward Azrai Aizad Abu Kamal (finger) have been ruled out of the World Cup due to injuries.
Striker Shello Silverius who scored five goals in the Azlan Shah campaign also suffered a fracture to his hand and is in a race against time to be ready for the World Cup. Silverius’ absence was sorely felt by Malaysia, which lost three matches in the Nations Cup, just after the Azlan Shah high.
Furthermore, while Malaysia has held its own in matches against Asian teams, it has struggled against others — it conceded 15 and failed to score in three matches against Australia and was thrashed 7-0 in a friendly against Belgium later in the year.
It has a tough opening match against the Netherlands, a side it had lost 0-7 to four years ago. Malaysian captain Firhan Ashari is hopeful of a better start this time around. “We are well prepared this time as we have (recently) played three tournaments and have also gone on tour in Europe. We also have eight experienced players in the squad, four of whom will be playing in their third World Cup,” Firhan said.
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Despite Firhan’s tough words, Malaysia will be a massive underdog against the Netherlands. However, it will be looking to make the most of its encounters against New Zealand and lower ranked Chile and hoping to make it into the crossover stage.
Key man: At 35, defender Razie Rahim is the oldest member of the Malaysian squad. He will also be critical to the team’s hopes. On his day, Rahim can be devastating with his drag flicks — he was crucial to Malaysia’s Azlan Shah triumph, scoring seven goals in the winning campaign.
4. Chile (WR 22)
How it qualified: Second place in 2022 Pan American Cup
Previous World Cups: Chile is competing in its first World Cup
As the lowest-ranked team to be competing in the Hockey World Cup, it will take an exceptional effort from Chile to progress deep into the tournament. Paired alongside multiple World Cup winners the Netherlands, New Zealand and Malaysia, a certain target would be to make its way at least to the crossover stage.
While Chile might be a debutant, it’s unlikely that any team would take it lightly. The team has a few things working in its favour. According to team captain Fernando Renz, the team travelling to India has been training as a unit for several years now. “It was a dream come true to qualify for the World Cup,” he told FIH. “We have been dreaming of this moment for a long time. We have been 4-5 years together. This team has grown up together. After qualifying for the World Cup we have been training together,” he added.
It also helps that Chile is largely an unknown factor. Over the course of the year, it has only played against two teams — Argentina and Spain — who will be competing at the World Cup. Renz touched upon that factor recently. “Holland is one of the world’s best teams. New Zealand and Malaysia also have different strong teams. We have been analysing them for a long time because they have been playing Pro League but we have never played them,” he says. Chile will keep things simple, says Renz. “We play a different kind of hockey (to the bigger teams). We try to look like a European team. We are going to be running hard, the whole match. We are very tight. That will be our main characteristic,” he says.
Renz knows Chile has the ability to spring a few surprises. At the Pan American Cup where it qualified for the World Cup, Chile had a 2-0 lead against former Olympic champion and current world number 7 Argentina before eventually going 3-2 after conceding a last minute goal in the group stage. The two teams met in the final, where Argentina prevailed again.
Key man: With 76 goals in 169 matches, striker Martin Rodriguez is the most experienced member of the squad.