Nilakanta Sharma: Good starts crucial for India at Hockey World Cup

Midfielder Nilakanta Sharma says a strong start in the matches that India plays is crucial to its chances of success at the men’s Hockey World Cup in 2023.

If he makes it to the squad for the mega-event, Nilakanta Sharma will become the first Manipuri to play in back-to-back World Cups at home

If he makes it to the squad for the mega-event, Nilakanta Sharma will become the first Manipuri to play in back-to-back World Cups at home | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement (Hockey India)

Midfielder Nilakanta Sharma says a strong start in the matches that India plays is crucial to its chances of success at the men’s Hockey World Cup in 2023.

The Indian team will aim to stop opponents from scoring early goals as it heads into the men’s hockey World Cup next year, says midfielder Nilakanta Sharma.

India’s Commonwealth Games campaign in Birmingham ended after a disappointing 0-7 drubbing at the hands of Australia in the final. India had conceded five goals in the first half itself.

“We have been going through the video tapes of our matches in Commonwealth Games ever since the camp started and we have been working to make sure that we don’t concede any early goals. If we start strong, we can go on to build on our performance throughout the game,” Nilakanta said.

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In next year’s World Cup at home, India is grouped in Pool D along with England, Spain and Wales. It begins its campaign in Rourkela on the opening day against Spain on January 13.

Aiming for medal

“We have to face quite a few strong sides in the group stage of the World Cup and we don’t want to end up feeling like we haven’t performed our best at the end, so a good start is crucial for a good showing on home turf,” Nilakanta stated.

“Our aim at the World Cup is to get a medal, no matter what. We hope to qualify for the knockouts comfortably even though we face strong teams in the group stage and then focus on getting results against any team that stands in our way.”

Before the World Cup, the Indian team will take on New Zealand and Spain in the FIH Pro League in Bhubaneswar. “We do have the advantage of having played most of these teams in the FIH Pro League matches and we want to take that experience on to the pitch in Odisha,” he said.

“Once we get to the quarterfinals you cannot help but think, what if we lose, but the people in Odisha had been very supportive last time around and I will count on that support to relieve us of any pressure during the upcoming World Cup. The whole team feels that we need to keep the 2-1 loss against Netherlands in the 2018 World Cup in mind and perform well, like we did in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.”

If he makes it to the squad for the mega-event, Nilakanta will become the first Manipuri to play in back-to-back World Cups at home. “The official squad hasn’t been announced yet but yes, I hope to be playing in the World Cup. I feel proud that I can represent Manipur twice at this event and give my 100 per cent to help the squad win and not feel disappointed at the end,” he concluded.

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