Weighing under a sea of expectations to regain the title after 43 years, India will have to top their pool to have a realistic chance of breaking their World Cup jinx, said High-Performance Director David John on Thursday. Ranked fifth, India are placed in Pool C alongside current Olympic silver medallist and world no. 3 Belgium, South Africa and Canada. John said India will need to beat Belgium in the pool stages to avoid cross-over round and directly qualify for the quarterfinals to enhance their chances. Also Read - When Balbir Singh Senior Played 1956 Olympic Final Against Pakistan With a Broken Finger
“We have a very balanced team and conditions are also in our favour. There is tremendous expectations from us and we know that. But we need to top our pool. We need to beat Belgium and avoid cross-overs,” John told PTI. Also Read - After Dhyan Chand, There Was Balbir Singh Senior: Milkha Singh
India will open their campaign against South Africa on November 28 before squaring off against Belgium and Canada on October 2 and October 8 respectively. Citing the example of the women’s World Cup where India had to play the cross-overs after finishing third in their pool, the exercise physiologist-turned High-Performance Director said an extra game plays a big part in such a long tournament. Also Read - Sachin Tendulkar to Virat Kohli, Sardar Singh to Abhinav Bindra: India's Sporting Community Pays Tribute to 'Rare Role Model' Balbir Singh Sr.
In the women’s hockey World Cup held in London earlier this year, India entered the quarterfinals via the cross-over route but failed to cross the last-eight hurdle, losing to Ireland in penalty shoot-off. “Take the example of our women’s team, we made the quarterfinals after winning our cross-over match but that extra match drained our girls. That extra match will always take a toll on the fitness of the players,” said the Australian.
“So we need to avoid cross-overs and win against Belgium.” Only last month, John was dropped from the men’s senior selection panel for showing “bias” against some senior players and preferring juniors, but the Hockey India selectors seemed to have heeded to some extent to the Australian’s views while selecting the World Cup side.
Hockey India named a relatively mixed team for the World Cup, leaving out senior players like Rupinder Pal Singh, SV Sunil and Ramandeep Singh. Even though he was not part of the selection panel, John seemed quite satisfied with the squad.
“It’s not a young team, it’s a mixture of youth and experience. We now have depth in the side. We don’t have Rupinder but Varun (Kumar) is there to take his place. Dilpreet (Singh) has come of age in the absence of Ramandeep. So we now have the bench strength,” John said.
“Rupinder is not fit. He suffered an injury on his knee during the camp and is not 100 per cent fit. Same goes with Ramandeep. The closest to retain full fitness was Sunil,” he added.
Veteran midfielder Sardar Singh, who announced his retirement after the Asian Games, has blamed John and former coach Sjoerd Marijne for his sudden decision to quit.
Asked about the accusation, John only said: “We need to look forward and create adequate bench strength keeping in mind 2020 Olympics.”