Hockey World Cup rolls into action minus Pakistan today: India take on Belgium in opener

THE HAGUE: Injury-hit India will be seeking to reverse the tide of their recent encounters against Europe’s rising hockey powerhouse Belgium in the World Cup opener at the Kyocera Stadium on Saturday (today). Tournament Guide Far removed from the glorious era of India’s global domination, the Sardar Singh-led team is aspiring to give a credible show in the World Cup, where India has not qualified for the semifinals for nearly four decades since the title triumph of 1975 in Kuala Lumpur.
European Cup runners-up Belgium are the new force to contend with on the hockey turf after making impressive strides during the past three years. Starting with the Champions Challenge in Johannesburg in 2011, where they upstaged India in the last five minutes to clinch the title after conceding a two-goal lead, the Belgians have lost just one of the past four key encounters with India. The Belgians went on to post a victory over India in the 2012 Olympics Games, but their wayward shooting allowed India to hang on to a lone-goal lead in the quarterfinals of the Champions Trophy in Melbourne later that year. In their last meeting, Belgium dashed India’s hopes of emerging winners in the World League Finals play-off for the fifth position.
Today, the Indians will seek to avenge their defeat, and get off to a flying start in the World Cup. India are drawn in Group A alongside defending champions Australia, formidable Spain and Belgium, beside 2012 Olympic semifinalists England and fast improving Malaysia. Group B features Olympic gold medalists Germany and hosts The Netherlands winners of two World Cup title each. Completing the lines up are Argentina, New Zealand, South Korea and South Africa.

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Aaj Kal