With the unveiling of the Hero Hockey Champions Trophy at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar this afternoon, the stage has been formally set for what promises to be a true test of the Best of the Best.
Australia and England open the tournament on Saturday and the latter’s captain Barry Middleton cannot wait to hit the turf.
“We have a squad that we trust in and we just want to get started and see where we are. Everyone who is in the squad now has proven themselves through league hockey first and foremost and then training with the team. This is where they get their top level experience and in six months time [for the Olympic qualifiers], they will be really ready to go.”
Kookaburra coach Graham Reid is looking to the future with a side bristling with talent and youthful enthusiasm. “For us, this tournament is about regeneration and we are using this opportunity to blood new players and other guys who may not have had as many opportunities until now.”
They completed their warm-up schedule with a win over Argentina and Reid says the world champions are “on the right trajectory” leading into their first encounter.
In game two, Belgium face Pakistan in rude health. Coach Jeroen Delmee saw his side run up a big 4-0 win over Germany in their last practice match and says he is content with how his team has prepared.
“I think we are doing fine. Saturday is when the big matches start and so yesterday’s score doesn’t really matter but I am happy with the way we played and what we wanted to see from the team.
“The boys get fresher everyday, more adjusted to the temperature and the time difference so I think we are where we should be.”
They meet Pakistan whose captain Muhammad Imran is looking forward to renewing rivalries with some of the world’s best teams “This is a big competition for us. We haven’t played the European teams for one and a half years so we will have to fight but I hope we will perform well.”
Dutch captain Rob van der Horst says his side is well acclimatised after a lengthy preparation phase that has the Oranje in the best possible shape for their day one match-up with Argentina.
“We are already in India 10 days so we are ready,” he said. “We are playing the top eight teams in the world and are looking forward to this. It’s good to see how the young players are quickly adapting and I am looking forward to playing some nice games here.”
Their first task is against an Argentina side whose last outing at the top level saw them grab bronze at this summer’s World Cup. Argentina’s Lucas Rey says the side will take a little time to gel like they did during the summer, especially after a 45-hour journey from their homeland.
“It’s difficult at the moment for us because we haven’t trained together too much since the World Cup. But we are focussed on Saturday where we will try to improve and then build to the quarter-final which we will try to win – that’s the most important match.”
The hosts, India, face Germany in the final game of the day in what is sure to be a cacophony of noise in front of an expectant home crowd. Captain Sardar Singh has been the subject of intense attention from a huge press corps in Bhubaneswar but cannot wait to put on a show.
They come up against a Germany side for whom Markus Weise has brought a very fresh-faced panel to India and had hoped of having another uncapped player in his line-up as he looks to widen his panel.
“We want to see how they do in this sort of environment and build-up the competition within the team for places with the senior players and expose the young guys to this level of competition.”
Captain Tobias Hauke added that it will be a thrill to play the home side in front of their own fans. “Now we need to step up as we are playing a super strong Indian team tomorrow night. The stadium will be packed but I am sure we will perform well. We have a good mixture of experienced guys and Under-21 world champions.”
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