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FIH Hockey World Cup: A good start is crucial for a good showing on home turf: Nilakanta Sharma

Bengaluru, Sept. 29: Following their silver-winning campaign in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the Indian men's hockey team is gearing up for the Hockey World Cup, set to be held in January 2023.

Though the men's team clinched silver, India's campaign in CWG ended on a disappointing note as they fell to a crushing loss in the final. The loss has added as extra motivation as the Manpreet Singh-led side is determined to put in the hard yards ahead of the mega event. Playing at home, the hosts will head into the tournaments as favourites.

Opening up about the team's preparations, India midfielder Nilakanta Sharma said that the team is keen to take what they can from the experience of CWG and come out stronger. "We have been going through the video tapes of our matches in CWG ever since the camp started and we have been working to make sure that we don't concede any early goals. If we start strong, we can go on to build on our performance throughout the game," said the midfielder.

Sharma went on to add that they would look to start strong in the mega event set to be held in Bhubaneshwar-Rourkela. "We have to face quite a few strong sides in the group stage of the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023 and we don't want to end up feeling like we haven't performed our best at the end so a good start is crucial for a good showing on home turf," said Sharma.

India, who will begin their campaign against Spain on January 13th in Rourkela, has been grouped in pool D along with England, Wales and Spain. Though they will face strong contenders in the group stage itself, Sharma said India will look to ensure they have a comfortably passage to the knockouts.

"Our aim at the World Cup is to get a medal, no matter what. We hope to qualify for the knockouts comfortably even though we face strong teams in the group stage and then focus on getting results against any team that stands in our way. We do have the advantage of having played most of these teams in the FIH Pro League matches and we want to take that experience onto the pitch in Odisha," he said without mincing his words about India's chances at the marquee event.

India will get a chance to play Spain ahead of their world cup, with the FIH Pro League matches set to take place ahead of the World Cup. Though skipper Manpreet said that it will be an advantage to play Spain ahead of their World Cup, Nilakanta added that there is a lot of difference in playing pro league matches and world cup.

"Once we get to the quarter-finals you cannot help but think, what if we lose, but the people in Odisha had been very supportive last time around and I will count on that support to relieve us of any pressure during the upcoming World Cup. The whole team feels that we need to keep the 2-1 loss against Netherlands in the 2018 World Cup in mind and perform well, like we did in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. We don't want to be participants at the World Cup, we want to win a medal and we are focused on that," stated Sharma.

India's world cup squad for the Hockey World Cup is yet to be announced and if Nilakanta makes it to the squad, then he will become the first player from Manipur to play in back-to-back World Cups at home.

"The official squad hasn't been announced yet but yes, I hope to be playing in the World Cup. I feel proud that I can represent Manipur twice at this event and give my 100% to help the squad win and not feel disappointed at the end," he signed off.

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Story first published: Thursday, September 29, 2022, 18:23 [IST]
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