1. Wales (WR 15)
How it qualified: winner, European qualifier
Previous World Cups: Debutant
Wales is one of the two debutants at the World Cup, the other being Chile. The sport itself has a long history in the country like other Great Britain teams and Welsh players have been part of the GB side at the Olympics with two players — Jacob Draper and veteran Rupert Shipperley — participating in the 2021 edition in Tokyo. The team, however, has been a regular at other major events — most notably, the Commonwealth Games and the Euro Hockey Championships.
The team finished a creditable sixth at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, ahead of more fancied teams like Pakistan and Canada. Drag-flicker Gareth Furlong was the joint second-highest scorer (with Harmanpreet Singh) on nine goals. It was also its best performance in the event. Wales qualified for the World Cup by defeating higher-ranked and more experienced Ireland in the shoot-out in the semifinal of the qualifiers, before stunning France in the final. Along with its CWG performance, the team has shown consistent improvement.
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Currently ranked 15th in the world — ahead of Japan, Pakistan and Canada — Wales might be the lowest-ranked side in the group and struggling to raise funds for its travel through fundraisers off the field but on it, teams would do well to not take it easy.
Key man: Rupert Shipperley, member of the Great Britain team at the Tokyo Olympics, attacking midfielder.
2. England (WR 5)
How it qualified: Fourth place, 2021 Men’s Euro Hockey Championships
Previous World Cups: 1973 – 6th, 1975 – 6th, 1978 – 7th, 1982 – 9th, 1986 – 2nd, 1990 – 5th, 1994 – 6th, 1998 – 6th, 2002 – 7th, 2006 – 5th, 2010 – 4th, 2014 – 4th, 2018 – 4th.
World Cup record against India: 4 Wins, 3 Losses, 1 Draw
2014: India 1-2 England (league); 2010: India 2-3 England (league); 2006: India 2-3 England (league); 2002: India 2-3 England (league); 1994: India 1-0 England (5/6 playoff); 1982: India 4-2 England (league); 1978: India 1-1 England (league); 1975: India 2-1 England (league).
Since making its debut in 1973, England has been at every World Cup but has just one medal to show (silver in 1986). The team reached the semifinals at each of the last three editions but fell short every time to finish fourth and would be keen to set the record straight this time around.
There has certainly been no dearth of impressive performances, though, even if the team has more often than not choked at the semifinal stage. England has won bronze at the European Championships an incredible seven times but made the final just twice, winning and losing once each. The team has also had an impressive run at the Commonwealth Games, winning its fourth bronze, third consecutive one, at the latest edition in 2022 at home.
A perennial threat to any team in any group, England, however, will have to contend with newcomer and neighbour Wales, unpredictable Spain and host India in its group before it can start planning for the knockout stages. The other teams would do well to be aware of the team’s momentum — England has been unbeaten in its last four games, in the Pro League, winning three of them in shootouts, and would hope to carry its form into the new year.
England has always had a good set of players, including the likes of Ashley Jackson, Barry Middleton, Mark Gleghorne and the Mantell brothers in recent times. The current set is no different with Nick Bandurak in great form, finishing as the top-scorer at the 2022 CWG with 11 goals. The team was unbeaten and on course for a maiden final on home soil before eventual champion Australia overturned a two-goal deficit to win in the semifinal.
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Key men: Zach Wallace, captain and 2019 FIH Rising Star of the Year nominee, can play at any position, and Sam Ward, experienced and talented striker with the ability to score from any angle.
3. Spain (WR 8)
How it qualified: Fifth place, 2021 Euro Hockey Championships
Previous World Cups: 1971 – 2nd, 1973 – 5th, 1975 – 8th, 1978 – 5th, 1982 – 11th, 1986 – 5th, 1990 – 8th, 1994 – 9th, 1998 – 2nd, 2002 – 11th, 2006 – 3rd, 2010 – 5th, 2014 – 8th, 2018 – 13th.
World Cup record against India: 3 Wins, 2 Losses, 1 Draw
2014: India 1-1 Spain (league); 2010: India 2-5 Spain (league); 2002: India 3-0 Spain (league); 1986: India 1-2 Spain (league); 1978: India 0-2 Spain (5/6 playoff); 1973: India 2-0 Spain (league).
Spain has forever been a talented, tough team despite its relative lack of trophies at the top-level competitions, a point only proven yet again in its last outings during the Pro League in November 2022. Playing in Bhubaneswar — one of the two venues for the World Cup — Spain won and lost a game each against India and New Zealand, the defeats both via penalties.
Traditionally a defensive and tactical side like many European teams, Spain has seen a visible change in its playing style under former Dutch coach Max Caldas, one of the most astute observers of the game with a proven record as coach. With Spanish legend Juan Escarre as part of the staff, there is no dearth of experience on the bench. It is only one of the four teams to have played in every edition of the World Cup.
While its recent track record is not great — Spain finished eighth at the Tokyo Olympics and a lowly 13th at the 2018 World Cup, also held in Bhubaneswar to be eliminated in the group stage with two draws and no wins for its worst performance ever — it has a fairly impressive presence at major competitions, punching above its weight or ranking consistently.
Two silvers in the World Cup (1971 and 1998) and a bronze (2006) and four medals at the Olympics (silver in 1980, 1996, 2008 and bronze in 1960) are testament to that. Unpredictable is a word that perhaps best describes the team, making it more dangerous than rankings imply. More interestingly, the team has done relatively better at standalone elite competitions with six medals in the erstwhile Champions Trophy and runner-up at the 2019 Euro Championships.
Spain also has players who can be dangerous and cause upsets including the nippy and talented Enrique Gonzalez who, at 26, is already the second most-capped player in the current squad with enough India experience, and Argentinian Joaquin Menini, playing his third World Cup but the first for Spain. The latter, member of the Argentinian side that won gold at the Rio Olympics, shifted his allegiance to Spain earlier this year and has quickly become a key member of the side. Also in the side is crafty midfielder Marc Miralles, leading the side at just 24 years, and Pere Amat.
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The biggest concern for Spain would be the inexperience of its goalkeepers, ironically one of its biggest strengths in recent times. In Francisco “Quico” Cortes the team was served by a brilliant goalkeeper for more than a decade, including the 2021 Euro Hockey Championships before the 39-year old was finally replaced by younger blood earlier this year.
Key man: Enrique Gonzalez, speedy forward and talented playmaker.