New Zealand will take on newcomer Chile in a Group C clash at the Birsa Munda International Stadium on Saturday.
The Black Sticks have come to India on the back of a poor run in 2022 and a winning start against the lowest-ranked side in the tournament will be key to finishing second behind group favourite Netherlands.
Head coach Greg Nicol, who is aiming for consistency, said his team won’t be taking Chile lightly and wants his team to stamp its authority. New Zealand’s games have been high-scoring of late but an early afternoon push-off could make it difficult for both teams to get going.
Veterans Nick Ross and Simon Child’s return have bolstered their side ahead of the World Cup but it remains to be seen if Nicol ditches the team’s expansive style for a slightly conservative style.
Chile, a team of semi-professionals, is still riding the high of its maiden World Cup qualification and is hoping to make the most of this chance. While football still remains the no. 1 sport in the nation, further emphasised as a ball was kicked about ahead of the side’s pre-match training session, this group aims to help popularise hockey further. The World Cup won’t be on a free-to-air channel back home, but a shock result, which is very unlikely, could help the team’s cause.
“We will try to obtain the first goal, then the first point and why not get a first win after that? We will try to move up the rankings because it is very important for us and we have the chance to play against the best teams in the world. This is not the same as friendly matches,” said Chile coach Jorge Dabanch.
Experienced striker Martin Rodriguez will be the key threat up front for Chile, and skipper Fernando Renz, who handles the accounts for a beverage company back home, will be looking to push the team forward from midfield.