‘D’ is for death

Sportstar - - PREVIEW POOL D - SAMARNATH SOORY

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.

Four­time 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 run­ner­up in 2014, will be the favourite to top the pool with its well­bal­anced 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, two­time cham­pion Ger­many has had a se­ries of un­der­whelm­ing re­sults in the past two years. It will look for a top­place 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 higher­ranked In­dia in the quar­ter­fi­nals to se­cure a place in the World Cup.

A sil­ver medal at the 201■ Asian Games fol­lowed by third in the re­cently con­cluded Asian Cham­pi­ons Tro­phy makes Malaysia Pool D’s wild card. With world­class fin­ish­ers Razie Rahim and Faizal Saari in the team, Roe­lant Olt­mans’ men are ca­pa­ble of caus­ing ma­jor up­sets.

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

BISWARANJAN ROUT

Aim­ing for the top: De­spite a su­pe­rior win record against all the teams in its pool, two­time cham­pion Ger­many has had a se­ries of un­der­whelm­ing re­sults in the past two years.

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