The FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 is just two days away, and all eyes are on the 16 teams that have converged in Odisha. The teams have been divided into four pools, with hosts India slotted in Pool D, along with England, Spain and Wales.
Pool winners have the advantage of directly qualifying for the quarterfinals - second and third placed teams play an additional cross-over round.
Here's a look at the teams in Pool A (Argentina, Australia, France, South Africa) & B (Belgium, Germany, Japan, Korea):
The Olympic champions from Rio 2016 are Pan American hockey’s most potent force, having been crowned continental champions on 14 separate occasions. With swashbuckling style and incredible technical ability, Los Leones can match any team on the planet. The team is coached by former Argentina goalkeeper Mariano Ronconi, who will do all he can to lead his talented group to a first men’s World Cup title.
Agustin Mazzilli, Lucas Vila and team captain Matias Rey – named Player of the Tournament as his team swept to victory in the 2022 Men’s Pan American Cup in Santiago, Chile to seal their ticket to this event – remain outstanding performers despite being well into their 30s. The team recorded a notable 2-1 victory over reigning Olympic and World champions Belgium in November, providing a timely reminder that they can match the best in the business. Can Argentina emulate their men’s football team by winning a World Cup on Asian soil?
The Kookaburras are the most consistently outstanding men’s hockey team of the last 30 years, having remained in the top four of the FIH World Rankings for the duration of that period. They have won every prize available, including Olympic, World Cup, FIH Hockey Pro League and Oceania Cup titles.
In 2022, the side coached by former striker Colin Batch claimed a sensational seventh Commonwealth Games title, obliterating a hugely talented India team 7-0 in the event final in Birmingham. Nathan Ephraums and Jacob Anderson, the latter a travelling reserve for this event, both scored twice with Blake Govers, Tom Wickham and Flynn Ogilvie also netting in typically devastating displays from the brilliant Aussies. A shoot-out loss to Belgium in the gold medal match at the delayed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 was painful, but may serve as motivation as the brilliant Aussies go in search of a record-equalling fourth world title.
In 2018, France arrived in Bhubaneswar for their first FIH Men’s World Cup for 28 years, with their last appearance coming at 1990 competition in Lahore, Pakistan, where they finished seventh. Having been drawn in the same pool as Rio 2016 Olympic champions Argentina, Spain, and New Zealand, many expected them to be on the first plane out of India. However, after suffering a narrow defeat against the Black Sticks, Les Bleus achieved a set of results which would see them go all the way to the World Cup quarterfinals. A draw with higher-ranked Spain was followed by a stunning 5-3 victory over Argentina, sealing their place in the knock-out stages of the competition, where they beat China to set up a last eight meeting with Australia. Although the mighty Kookaburras brought France’s magnificent run to an end, they left the competition with their heads held high, having earned respect from everyone who saw them in action.
Since then, France – who are building towards the Olympic Games Paris 2024, where they will compete as hosts – have been going from strength to strength. They competed in the 2021-22 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, registering wins against India, South Africa, and Argentina before earning their ticket to this event with a second-place finish at the European Qualification event in Cardiff, won by hosts Wales. A fifth-place finish at the recent FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup South Africa 2022 event was perhaps below expectations, but with the likes of penalty corner ace Victor Charlet and seasoned talent Gaspard Baumgarten, France will be a dangerous outfit in Odisha.
Following their superb title victory in the recent FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup, earning them a ticket to the next edition of the elite FIH Hockey Pro League, South Africa have every reason to believe that they can achieve big things here in Odisha. The tournament hosts finished top of the pile on home soil in Potchefstroom, recording victories over Pakistan, France, and Korea before claiming a thrilling 4-3 win against Ireland – who they had lost to earlier in the competition – in the competition final. Inspirational 23-year-old captain Dayaan Cassiem scored twice in the title match, with younger sibling Mustaphaa netting a penalty stroke won by his big brother.
The outrageously gifted Cassiem brothers may be the poster boys of this hugely exciting new generation, but the team is far from reliant on them. Striker Tevin Kok is proving himself to be a reliable source of goals, while 33-year-old defender Jethro Eustice brings a steady, experienced head to a group brimming with youth and talent.
Belgium’s rise from European alsorans to the summit of global hockey has been one of the standout stories of the past two decades. In the past five years the Red Lions have won every major title on offer, including the World Cup (2018), Olympic Games (2021), European Championship (2019) and FIH Hockey Pro League (2020-21). It would take a brave person to bet against them successfully defending the world title they so memorably claimed four years ago in Bhubaneswar.
The team coached by Dutchman Michel van den Heuvel contains some of the world’s finest players, proven winners who have claimed the biggest titles on the greatest of stages. In Vincent Vanasch and Loic Van Doren they have two world class goalkeepers, while Arthur Van Doren, Victor Wegnez, Felix Denayer, Florent Van Aubel, John-John Dohmen, Alexander Hendrickx, Arthur de Sloover and Tom Boon – the latter two both shortlisted for the FIH Hockey Stars Player of the Year Award for 2022 – are all extraordinary talents. With strength and depth in every department, you can be sure Belgium will be rightly considered amongst the favourites for the title.
With four Olympic gold medals, two World Cups and eight European titles, Germany have an enviable history in international hockey and, when at their best, few teams can live with them. Tactically astute and technically superb, Die Honamas have a habit for hitting form at Olympic Games and World Cups, something they will be hoping to repeat here in Odisha.
Although the squad had not been confirmed at the time of writing, there are numerous names that we hope to see in action at this FIH Men’s World Cup. Two Germany players were shortlisted for the FIH Hockey Stars Awards for 2022, with attacker Niklas Wellen gaining a nomination for the Best Player prize and goalkeeper Alexander Stadler nominated for the Best Goalkeeper award. They are far from being the only superstars in the Germany squad, with brilliant attacker Christopher Rühr, captain Mats Grambusch and penalty corner weapon Gonzalo Peillat – the man who fired Argentina to Olympic gold at Rio 2016 – just a handful of the world class players at the disposal of head coach Andre Henning.
Making their first FIH Men’s World Cup appearance since Mönchengladbach 2006, Japan’s Samurais will be determined to remind everyone of their considerable talents.
At the delayed Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, the 2018 Asian Games gold medallists proved themselves to be a fearsome attacking unit that was perhaps unfortunate to be eliminated in the competition pool phase. The team that competes in Odisha is considerably less experienced than the one that took to the Olympic turf in Tokyo, with 11 players having fewer than 50 caps and ten athletes being aged between 18 and 23. Thirty-year-old captain Seren Tanaka is one of six players to have surpassed the 100 caps marker, alongside goalkeeper Takashi Yoshikawa, Shota Yamada, Masaki Ohashi, Hiromasa Ochiai and Koji Yamasaki, all of whom competed at Tokyo 2020.
Japan, who sealed their place at this FIH Men’s World Cup with a fourth-place finish at the 2022 Men’s Asia Cup, were recently in action at the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup in South Africa, recording wins against Canada and Pakistan on their way to a sixth-place finish. The team is coached by Akira Takahashi, who represented Japan at the 2002 FIH Men’s World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and, fascinatingly, was head coach of the Samurais four years later in Mönchengladbach.
After failing to qualify for the 2018 edition, Korea return to FIH Men’s World Cup action courtesy of a superb victory at the 2022 Men’s Hockey Asia Cup, where they defeated Malaysia in the competition final. Veteran defender Jang Jonghyun and Hwang Taeil contributed 11 goals to that title success, sealing Korea’s place back at the top table of international hockey.
The team have been involved in two high profile competitions in recent months, with Malaysia gaining a measure of revenge by defeating the Koreans 3-2 in the final of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in November. The Korea-Malaysia rivalry continued a couple of weeks later at the inaugural FIH Hockey Nations Cup, with evergreen 39-year-old captain Namyong Lee on the scoresheet as Korea recorded a superb 4-0 victory in the bronze medal game. While a bronze medal was not good enough for Korea to secure a berth in the next edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, their solid performances at that competition in South Africa provided plenty of evidence that Korea are a team that should not be underestimated.