Field Hockey: Pakistan to take on Belgium in Champions Trophy
The eastern city of Bhubaneshwar hosts the prestigious eight-nation invitation tournament regarded as the third biggest prize in the sport after the Olympics and the World Cup.
With the World Cup held at the Hague in the Netherlands in June, the nine-day competition gives respective coaches an opportunity to look ahead and rebuild for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Field hockey’s elite are set for an exciting tussle in India from Saturday as dominant Australia seek an incredible sixth successive Champions Trophy title.
Australia showcased their undisputed prowess when they retained both the World Cup title and the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow earlier this year.
But a field that includes five other nations that have won an Olympic gold — Germany, the Netherlands, England, India and Pakistan — besides the fast-improving Belgium and Argentina, opens up the competition at the Champions Trophy.
The Kookaburras wear a new look in the absence of veterans Liam de Young and Rob Hammond, who retired after the World Cup, and five-time world player of the year Jamie Dwyer and Mark Knowles, who are both injured.
Graham Reid, who replaced the legendary Ric Charlesworth as head coach earlier this year, insisted he was focused on rebuilding a young team for the future.
“As I said earlier, we are using the Champions Trophy as another opportunity to expose our younger players to the rigours of international competition,” said Reid.
Reigning Olympic champions Germany will bank on one of the most gifted squads in the competition to bounce back after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the World Cup.
Moritz Furste, world player of the year in 2012, returns after missing the World Cup due to leg injury. Also in the line-up are Tobias Hauke, who won the award in 2013, and talented 20-year-old Christopher Ruhr.
The Netherlands, ranked second in the world, are hungry for a major title after finishing runners-up to Germany at the London Olympics and again to Australia at the World Cup.
Coach Max Caldas, the former Argentine international who guided the Netherlands women’s team to gold medals at the Olympics and the World Cup, will look to work his magic with the men’s squad.
England are relying on experienced players like Ashley Jackson and captain Barry Middleton to deliver a maiden Champions Trophy title after finishing fourth at the World Cup.
Hosts India will miss their Australian coach Terry Walsh, who was controversially sacked despite leading the team to an Olympic-qualifying gold medal at the Asian Games in September.
Pakistan have also endured a traumatic year where they failed to qualify for the World Cup and also could not gain a direct entry to the 2016 Olympics.
The teams have been divided into two groups for the preliminary league which will determine the line-up for the knock-out stage to be contested by all sides. -AFP