Hockey World Cup 2018: ‘D’ is for death

Pool D form book for Hockey World Cup 2018: Germany has had a lacklustre year-and-a-half, Pakistan’s preparations have been in shambles. But the Netherlands once again enters the tournament as one of the favourites, and Malaysia could well prove a dark horse.

Despite a superior win record against all the teams in its pool, two-time champion Germany has had a series of underwhelming results in the past two years.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

History lies heavy on the shoulders of the teams in Pool D. Three of the four — Germany, the Netherlands and Pakistan – have won nine of the 13 World Cups held till date.

Four-time champion Pakistan has been going through a bleak period in recent times. It stuttered in qualifying, but managed to finish seventh in the Hockey World League Semifinals in London.

After days of uncertainty over its participation owing to financial difficulties, the Pakistan hockey team is finally making the trip. The team’s new sponsor, Haier Pakistan, released nine million Pakistani rupees to cover the team’s expenses in the tournament.

The Netherlands, the runner-up in 2014, will be the favourite to top the pool with its well-balanced side coached by Max Caldas, who has guided the Dutch women’s team to three World Cup titles. The match against Germany will be the biggest test for the Oranje, which is aiming for a fourth World Cup title. The European neighbours have faced each other in the World Cup nine times, with Germany winning thrice and the Netherlands on two occasions. But Germany has won four of their past five encounters.

Despite a superior win record against all the teams in its pool, two-time champion Germany has had a series of underwhelming results in the past two years. It will look for a top-place finish in its group to avoid a possible crossover clash with Belgium — the eight teams finishing second and third in their groups will vie for the remaining quarterfinal spots — after suffering two humiliating losses to it in the World Hockey League finals and the European Championships.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s rising stature as an Asian powerhouse has been evident since the 2017 Hockey World League Semifinals in Johannesburg, where it beat higher-ranked India in the quarterfinals to secure a place in the World Cup.

A silver medal at the 2018 Asian Games followed by third in the recently concluded Asian Champions Trophy makes Malaysia Pool D’s wild card. With world-class finishers Razie Rahim and Faizal Saari in the team, Roelant Oltmans’ men are capable of causing major upsets.

With the second- and third-placed teams taking on the third- and second-placed teams from Pool C, respectively, a meeting between arch-rivals India and Pakistan and a replay of the European Championships final between Netherlands and Belgium are both possible.