From the “bliss” of playing on grass to the “harsh realities” of competing on artificial turf, Indian hockey has slipped down the ladder like no other team. There is a lingering hope, however, that things might look up one day.

When the 12th edition of the FIH-Hockey World Cup gets underway at the redesigned Dyan Chand National Stadium in New Delhi this Sunday, hockey followers will train their energies not on the host, but on the performing European teams like The Netherlands, Germany and Spain. India has a tough opener against Pakistan.

Strengths and speculations

Celebrated midfield striker Teun de Nooijer and drag flick specialist Taeke Taekema form the nucleus of The Netherlands team. Two of the most experienced members in the World Cup, they would be keen to guide the team, which consists mostly of youngsters, to its fourth World Cup title. On current form, Dutch looks to be the team to beat.

Germany is a nice mix of youth and experience. The reigning Olympic champion and two time defending world champions, Germany will make a serious bid to become the first nation to win the FIH World Cup three times in a row. An astute striker, Matiius Witthaus will pose a major threat to all the teams.

One of the most talented teams never to have won a World Cup, Spain will be eager to do well here. The focal point of Spain's attack will be its skipper and 2008 FIH Player of the Year Pablo “Pol” Amat. An unpredictable and superb striker, Amat is known for his timing and angles. In the last edition at Monchengladbach in Germany, Spain was plain unlucky. After turning in an undefeated campaign in the league, it lost in the semi-finals to Germany in a penalty shootout.

The most successful team in World Cup has been Pakistan with four titles (1971, 78, 82 and 94). However, it has not finished in the top four of the World Cup since winning it in Sydney in 1994.

The return of Sohail Abbas, the veteran of penalty corner conversions, will inspire his teammates to put their best foot forward.

Pinning hope

After clinching the 1975 World Cup, India hasn't done anything worthwhile. It's the second time in history that India hosts the FIH World cup. Previously, Bombay staged the competition in 1982. India has not won a medal in a major international competition since winning a Champions Trophy bronze in 1982. For India, captain Rajpal Singh, star striker Prabhjot Singh and the fleet-footed Shivendra Singh, who top scored for India in Mönchengladbach. will be the stars to watch out for. Goalkeeper Adrian D'Souza brings the much needed experience to the side.

The World Cup, no doubt, will be a spectacle, pitting the best sides against each other and some legends showcasing their skills. But what can a fervent Indian fan expect? There is little left to guess.

Stars to look Out for:

Jamie Dwyer (Australia )

With rich experience of 250 International appearances for Australia, Jamie Dwyer is a seasoned player whom the Aussie would bank to deliver. He entered the public consciousness when he scored the famous golden goal against The Netherlands to give his team its first ever Olympic gold in Athens in 2004. Dwyer recovered from a knee injury in 2003 to win the best player of the year in 2004, 08 and 09. Dwyer's speed and stickwork are a sight to behold.

Teun de Nooijer (The Netherlands)

A curly haired 22-year-old turned the spotlight on himself in the 1998 World Cup final at Utrecht (The Netherlands). With two minutes remaining in extra time, Teun de Nooijer hit a tennis-like a shot for the winning goal against Spain. A veteran of over 400 international matches, Nooijer, for sure will have a lasting impact in Delhi with his strikes and deft passes.

Prabhjot Singh (India)

Easily one of the best forwards in India, Prabhjot Singh represents all that is great about Indian hockey: speed, dribbles and deft manoeuvres. Prabhjot was at his best in the 2007 Asia Cup in Chennai where he scored 15 goals and was adjudged the Player of the tournament. A nominee for the 2003 FIH ‘Young Player of the Year' award, Prabhjot was honoured with the Arjuna Award and also earned a place in the FIH All Star team. Former India coach Joaquim Carvalho descried Prabhjot as the best left-half after Zafar Iqbal.

Sohail Abbas (Pakistan)

Sohail Abbas joins the list of sportspersons, who has made a comeback after announcing their retirement. Unlike many whose comeback was brief and unsuccessful, Abbas is likely to be one to remember, or so his followers believe. One of the best drag flickers in contemporary hockey, Abbas with his strong arms and body dodge makes it difficult for defenders and goalkeepers to anticipate his shots correctly. Though his conversion rate has dipped, the 32-year-old's experience will be a big asset to his team.

Taeke Taekema (The Netherlands)

When Taeke Taekema takes aim during penalty corners, six out of ten times, one can be sure, it's going to hit the target. That's the great thing about Taekema. His success rate is stunning. He was the top scorer in the last World Cup with 11 goals and has one of the best all-time goal scoring records in the world, averaging nearly a goal in every match he's played.

Pool A:

Argentina

Canada

Germany

Korea

Netherlands

New Zealand

Pool B:

Australia

England

India

Pakistan

South Africa

Spain

Keywords: World Cuphockey

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