There has always been quite a lot of hype surrounding the Indian men’s hockey team in the lead-up to major multi-nation tournaments. Expectations have been sky high but all that was based on India’s dominant past in the sport.However, ahead of the much-anticipated 14th edition of Hockey World Cup, starting November 28 at home, the hockey fraternity, including fans and pundits are unwilling to play into the hype.Let alone recent form, history certainly doesn’t favour India. Ajit Pal Singh and his men gave the Asian giants its only world title in the third edition of the global spectacle. India’s performances in the recent past at the Hockey World Cup have been far from impressive.India’s best performance since the start of the 21st century has been an eighth-place finish that they clinched during the 2010 edition of the tournament, which was held in New Delhi. India finished ninth in the last edition at The Hague, Netherlands.Hockey World Cup 2018: Full Squads | ScheduleOn the other hand, the European nations and Australia have soared higher and higher at a time when Asian giants India and the most successful team at the World Cup, Pakistan are struggling to recreate their glorious past. The Aussies are heading into the upcoming edition in Bhubaneswar, bidding to win an unprecedented third straight title.Champions Trophy 2018 winners Australia, who have been drawn alongside England, Ireland and China in Pool B start as favourites while former champions and runners-up from the last edition, Netherlands will be hoping to make an impact after being drawn in the Group of death alongside two-time champions Germany, Pakistan and the impressive Malaysian side.advertisementReigning Olympic champions Argentina will also be the ones to watch out for as the second-ranked side will be hoping to make for their poor showing at the Champions Trophy in Breda earlier this year.Also Read – India took their eye off the ball: Ric Charlesworth on decline of Indian hockey in 1990sIndia will be facing an uphill task but their immediate concern will be to qualify for the knockout stages of the 16-team tournament.Coach Harendra Singh is under some considerable pressure after the heartbreak at Asian Games wherein favourites India lost to lower-ranked Malaysia in the semi-final before settling for a bronze medal.Harendra had taken over from former coach Sjoerd Marijne after India finished a disappointing fourth. The former women’s team head coach impressed in his first assignment by leading India to a runner-up finish at the Champions Trophy wherein they beat Argentina and clinched spirited draws against Belgium and the Netherlands.However, the Asian Games disappointment has come as a hard pill to swallow.India’s inability to survive knockout games after dominating round-robin stages has been a cause of concern. In both the Champions Trophy final and the Asian Games semi-final, India were undone by their ordinary performances in the shootouts.While coach Harendra has insisted the team has worked on shootouts, it remains to be seen how India are able to handle the pressure, especially playing in front of the home crowd, which will be expecting great things from Manpreet Singh’s side.Harendra, as a coach, tasted World Cup success when he led India to the junior World Cup glory in 2016 at home – in Lucknow.To recreate the magic in Bhubaneswar, the seasoned tactician has drafted seven members from the World Cup-winning squad in India’s 18 member squad. In the absence of two of India’s most crucial senior pros – Rupinder Pal Singh and SV Sunil – India have gone in with a squad that has a good mix of experience and youth.Fifth-ranked India begin their campaign on Wednesday against lower-ranked South Africa but their first big test will be against Belgium on December 2.Harendra and his men will be eager to lay down an early marker with a win against the European heavyweights. Securing the top spot in Pool B and thereby a direct entry to quarter-finals will be the hosts top priority but it’s easier said than done.
Madrid: Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale played for the first time in four pre-season matches on Sunday to suggest he could yet regain his place under coach Zinedine Zidane. Bale came off the bench as Madrid drew 2-2 against Roma in the Stadio Olimpico, before losing the friendly on penalties. After the game, Zidane was also asked about a possible move for Paris Saint-Germain striker Neymar but he refused to address the issue. It was Madrid’s seventh and final warm-up fixture ahead of the start of La Liga next weekend but Bale has only played three of those, and each time as a substitute. Also Read – Puducherry on top after 8-wkt win over ChandigarhJames Rodriguez, who has also been expected to leave Madrid this summer, was not even named on the bench against Roma. “Bale and James are players of Real Madrid,” Zidane said afterwards. “Anything can happen until August 31 but we are counting on all the players.” On a potential move for Neymar, who is reportedly keen to leave PSG and could rejoin Barcelona, Zidane said: “We are here with the squad that we have and we are only thinking about that.” Also Read – Vijender’s next fight on Nov 22, opponent to be announced laterZidane had made it clear Bale was not part of his plans for a reinvigorated Real Madrid this term and the Welshman was left out completely for their previous three friendlies against RB Salzburg, Fenerbahce and Tottenham. But after a move to China last month fell through and the closure of the Premier League transfer window, Bale was back in the squad against Roma and came on for the last half-an-hour. With the score level, he could have won it for Madrid, firing into the side-netting and then just wide in the 92nd minute after two impressive breaks forward. It remains to be seen if Bale is now included in Zidane’s squad to face Celta Vigo in Madrid’s season opener on Saturday. Their display against Roma was one of their better showings of a patchy pre-season, which has seen them register two wins, two draws and three defeats after normal time. All four goals were scored in the first half as twice Roma came from behind, Diego Perotti and Edin Dzeko cancelling out efforts from Marcelo and Casemiro. Bale scored his penalty but Marcelo missed, his shot hitting the crossbar to confirm Roma’s win. The Italian side begin their own Serie A season at home to Genoa on August 25.