Hockey World Cup 2018: A welcome return for South Africa

South Africa was unable to participate at 2016 Rio, only the second time it had missed the Olympics after Sydney in 2000 since returning to international sports after the end of apartheid. It's players will have a point to prove in Hockey World Cup 2018.

South Africa has a mix of new talent and experienced players including captain Tim Drummond.   -  Getty Images

The South African men qualified for its sixth World Cup after beating host Egypt in a closely contested final at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. For coach Sheldon Rostron and his players, this is a welcome return to top-flight competition after they were unable to participate in the Rio Olympics in 2016, only the second time they had missed the Olympics after Sydney in 2000 since returning to international sports after the end of apartheid. That the team missed Rio was more due to the national Olympic body deigning it not capable enough of challenging the top sides and so not worthy enough to receive the national grant would have hurt the players much more.

It would also have strengthened their resolve to put their best foot forward at Bhubaneswar and hope to do better than their previous visit here in 2010, when South Africa had finished 10th, its best result in the World Cup. The team had also finished 10th in 1994, when it returned to the main stage, and ended in 11th spot in the previous edition in 2014. Currently ranked 15th in the world, the team will be relying on a strong finish here to boost its ranking, which has slipped due to a lack of competitive outings and chances to participate in top-flight tournaments.

The introduction of a new professional domestic league back home and a handful of tough practice matches against European sides will give Rostron and his team much-needed impetus ahead of the World Cup, with a balanced mix of new talent and experienced players including goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse and captain Tim Drummond.

Squad: Tim Drummond, Dayaan Cassiem, Taylor Dart, Tyson Dlungwana, Jethro Eustice, Rhett Halkett, Tommy Hammond, Keenan Horne, Julian Hykes, Gowan Jones, Peabo Lembethe, Mo Mea, Bili Ntuli, Taine Paton, Richard Pautz, Rassie Pieterse, Austin Smith and Nic Spooner.