India has been placed in a tough group during the World Cup hockey: Zafar Iqbal

Former hockey captain Zafar Iqbal thinks it won’t be easy for India to win back the men’s World Cup after 47 years as the hosts are clubbed along with Spain, England and Wales in a tough group. The mega event will take place from January 13 to 29 in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.

India’s only gold at the World Cup was at the 1975 edition of Kuala Lumpur under the captaincy of Ajit Pal Singh. Zafar said it would be a great achievement for the hosts to finish on the podium after taking bronze at the Tokyo Olympics. Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile and Wales are the 16 teams that will compete for the title.

India are the top-ranked team in Pool D in fifth place, ahead of World No. 6 England, No. 8 Spain and No. 15 Wales.

“In world level competition you never know who will be in top form. Several teams are very strong, such as Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, England, Spain and India,” Zafar said in an issue of Hockey India.

“We have tough matches in the group stage. We have Spain, England and Wales, and they are all equally strong in their own way. I am sure if India finishes on the podium it will be a great achievement.

“We have several brave players in the team, who always gave their best and who were the heroes of the Olympic Games in Tokyo. So we hope they can repeat the success one more time,” he added.

Zafar, a member of India’s team that won gold medals at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, said the ongoing FIFA World Cup is an example that any team can cause a stir at a major sporting event.

“Former world champions Spain, Germany and Brazil have all been eliminated from the World Cup. You never know which team can beat which team in such tournaments. It is always unpredictable and the 2023 Men’s Hockey World Cup is also unpredictable.” he said.

Zafar, who also competed in the 1982 Men’s World Cup in Mumbai, said that artificial turf has completely changed the game and that modern hockey is all about power.

“In our time hockey was played on grass. But artificial turf began to replace grass in most parts of the world when the 1980s arrived. Although the 1982 World Cup was played at home on grass, we were unable to perform (at) our best and we were unable to qualify for the semi-finals,” he said.

“Now synthetic turf has turned hockey into a power game. The players need to get fitter and need more energy. We had to adapt to the European style of offensive hockey.

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