Hockey World Cup 2018: A clearer hierarchy in Pool C

Belgium is clearly the favourite in Pool C at Hockey World Cup 2018. India will not have an easy route to the knockouts as both Canada and South Africa are capable of pulling off upsets.

Belgium’s Arthur Van Doren (centre, in red) completed the rare double in 2017 of winning the FIH Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year.   -  AFP

While there are no easy opponents in a World Cup and no easy games or groups, Pool C featuring host India has, on paper, a clearer hierarchy than the rest.

Belgium, the European and Olympic silver medallist and ranked third in the world, is clearly the favourite to top the group and advance to the quarterfinals, leaving the other three teams — including South Africa and Canada — to fight for one of four quarterfinal spots. With the four pool toppers advancing to the knockout rounds, it will be a battle between the eight teams finishing second and third in their respective groups for the remaining spots.

With the FIH Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year in its ranks — Arthur Van Doren completed the rare double in 2017 — Belgium has both the experience and talent to go all the way. India hasn’t had great outings against Belgium in recent times, with a quarterfinal defeat at Rio Olympics still hurting the side.

At the same time, the host can take heart from the fact that the last time it faced off against Belgium at the Kalinga Stadium in 2017, India edged ahead in shoot-outs in the last-eight stage after being level 3-3. Still, it will be anyone’s game when the two clash in the league stage. The winner of the face-off between the two may well take the quarterfinal ticket from the pool. That, though, will not be easy. Despite the gap in world rankings, both Canada and South Africa have the potential to upset the favourites, especially India. In fact, Canada qualified for the World Cup by virtue of beating India and finishing ahead of it at the Hockey World League Round 3 in London last year, and any complacency could cost India heavily.

South Africa, on the other hand, has more than a few points to prove after it was not allowed to participate in the Rio Olympics despite qualifying by its Olympics association.

The team has often punched above its rankings and a return to top-flight competition will be its best chance to reassert its credentials on the back of a new professional domestic league.