So let's take a look at the qualifiers and their previous World Cup histories.
India are one of the most successful hockey teams in the history of the sport. Despite having won eight Olympic gold medals they will surely be disappointed to have won the World Cup title on only one occasion, in addition to a silver in 1973 and a bronze in 1971. Their 2-1 victory against arch-rivals Pakistan in the World Cup final of 1975 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is now a distant memory as the hockey mad nation looks towards a bright future. Their men’s triumph at the Hockey Junior World Cup 2016 provides renewed optimism in the country following a gradual improvement in performance in recent years. A bronze medal at the 2015 Hockey World League Final and silver at the Hockey Champions Trophy 2016 suggests that their team will be challenging for honours in Bhubaneswar when the worlds best teams come to town. And with thousands of passionate Indian fans turning out in force, the team will be using their support to spur them on to what would be a truly memorable victory in their homeland.
Olympic champions in 2016 and bronze medallists at the 2014 World Cup: it has been a tremendous four years for the Los Leones and their charismatic coach Carlos Retegui. But Argentina's success on the international stage has only come about in recent years. Until 2014, Argentina's highest finishing place had been sixth, in 2002. before and after that, they were usually to be found in the bottom half of the positions.
But under Retegui – who achieved the unique double of leading the men's and women's team to bronze at the same event – and with players such as Gonzalo Peillat, Lucas Vila and new sensation Maico Casella all hitting their prime, Argentina will be heading to Bhubaneswar with high hopes of bettering their 2014 performance when they took the world by storm with their free-flowing, exciting brand of hockey.
As holders of the title and the number two side in the world, Australia will be arriving in India ready to take on the world. They will need to do some serious work on the training field in the meantime as the past two years have seen a slip in the standards the Kookaburras are used to achieving. A sixth place in the 2016 Olympics, a third place in Johannesburg are not the finishing places the former world number one team are used to. The manner of their final match in Johannesburg – a 8-1 win over Spain – is perhaps a sign that the tide is turning.
The Kookaburras are the third most successful men’s team in World Cup history, with 10 medals from 13 appearances. They are also chasing a third consecutive gold in India, after they won convincingly in Delhi in 2010 and then proved irresistible in the Hague in 2014, winning all their games and demolishing the Dutch 6-1 in the final. These are the heights that head coach Colin Batch is seeking to return to.
The Red Lions are the success story of the past eight years. They have gradually moved their way up the world rankings to their current fifth position and the increasingly large collection of team trophies is an indication of the success of their development plans. An silver medal at EuroHockey 2013, a silver medal at the 2015 Hockey World League Final, an Olympic 2016 silver medal and now a HWL Semi-Final gold medal won in emphatic style by beating European rivals Germany 6-1.
Belgium’s appearances and performances at previous World Cup events is a further sign of the team’s recent development. They have competed in five World Cups, with gaps between each appearance. In 2002 they finished 14th, missed 2006 and 2010 and then finished in fifth place in 2014 at the Hague. They will go to Odisha, India, as very serious medal contenders.
Canada booked their place at Bhubaneswar with a stunning reversal of form against India. The Canada team (WR: 11) had lost 3-0 to India in the pool stages and were 2-1 down in the 5th/6th play-off. However, the team has a lot of experience among its members and they got back on level terms before nicking the game from the team ranked five places ahead of them in the Hero World Rankings.
For many of the Canada team the World Cup will be new territory. The Red Caribou last qualified for the event in 2010, where they finished 11th and in their previous four appearances, their highest finish was eighth in 1998. But, in beating India at a major competition for the first time in nearly 20 years [1998 World Cup], the team has made beating higher-ranked opposition to qualify for major tournaments a newly acquired habit – they beat seventh-ranked New Zealand at the equivalent stages of the HWL in 2015.
The 21st of October 2017 is a date that will live long in the memory for China men’s hockey, whose place at the Odisha Hockey Men's World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 was finally confirmed whilst competing at the Hero Asia Cup 2017. Although they did not actually take to the field on that particular day, China’s eighth place finish at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London earlier in the year proved hugely significant as it left Korea, who finished one place below China in London, needing to win the Asian Continental Championship in order to achieve World Cup qualification. Korea dreams of competing in Bhubaneswar were ended when they drew with Malaysia, a result which put the Malaysians into the Asia Cup final and also confirmed China men as qualifiers for the World Cup for the first time in their history.
China have significantly improved in recent years, making steady progress up the FIH Hero World Rankings. The vast majority of the team that qualified for Bhubaneswar is under the age of 25, which suggests that the group still has their best years ahead of them. 27-year-old Du Talake is one of the most experienced players and also a prolific goal-scorer from penalty corner situations, a fact proven by his five goals in five matches at the Hero Asia Cup 2017. It will be fascinating to see how the team performs in Bhubaneswar.
A second place finish in 1986 and fourth at the past two editions are England's best performances at a World Cup. But this is a side in transition and coach Bobby Crutchley is building a team that he believes can challenge for trophies. The first task for Crutchley's team was to qualify, which they achieved by finishing third in front of a home crowd at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals.
This podium finish follows a first success at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia since 1984. Back then, the team played as England, on this occasion it was Great Britain but the majority of those players will now go on to represent England in Bhubaneswar and will take the confidence of these successes with them.
After a 28 year World Cup absence, France will make a welcome return to a stage on which they admirably performed in their two previous appearances. The team participated in the inaugural event way back in 1971, where they achieved a fine seventh place finish in Barcelona, Spain. Nineteen years later they repeated the feat, claiming seventh at the 1990 competition in Lahore, Pakistan. Their World Cup return may have been a long time coming, but this exciting, hugely talented young French team has the potential to make a big splash in Bhubaneswar.
France have been making steady improvement over the past few years, a fact proven by their seventh place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg after qualifying for the event by finishing second at the Round 2 tournament in Belfast. A 3-0 win over Egypt secured their classification placement in Johannesburg, although it was not quite good enough for direct qualification. However, it did put them in an excellent position ahead of the Continental Championships. Their World Cup berth was finally confirmed during the Oceania Cup in Sydney, when the already qualified Australia and New Zealand reached the competition final and in doing so opened the door for this vibrant and entertaining French team.
Towering defender and penalty corner expert Victor Charlet is a key player for the side, as is talented attacking midfielder Hugo Genestet, who is blessed with skill, guile and a keen eye for goal.
Germany sealed their place at the 2018 World Cup with a powerful display of hockey throughout the pool matches, in which they were unbeaten. A slightly less confident display in the semi-final saw the Germans go to a penalty shoot out against Spain, which they won 4-3 but then they capitulated against a red-hot Belgium team to end the tournament in second place.
Germany currently sit at three in the world rankings and, after winning silver at the EuroHockey Championships in 2015, bronze at Rio 2016 and silver in Johannesburg at the HWL Semi-Finals, the team will be eyeing their third gold medal this century – they won in 2002 and 2006. Playing as either West Germany (until 1990) or Germany, the team has a haul of eight World Cup medals in total and has never finished lower than sixth (2014). The last edition of the competition was a disappointment to the ambitious German team and all the signs are there that we are witnessing a German revival.
Ireland men sealed their qualification for the 2018 World Cup with a backs-to-the-wall epic encounter with New Zealand. The Green Machine emerged 1-0 winners after Alan Sothern’s goal in the 49th minute. This was a monumental effort as injuries meant the Irish bench was reduced to just two players, with all the squad putting in an extra shift.
Ireland has made two previous World Cup appearances, in 1978 and 1990, both times finishing in 12th position. In the past few years however, the Ireland side has made real headway in the rankings and in major tournament performances. In 2015 they qualified via the HWL Semi-Finals for the 2016 Olympics and in the same year they took bronze at the EuroHockey Championships. Craig Fulton’s side now sits at nine in the world rankings and is a hockey force to be reckoned with.
Malaysia have made eight appearances in the World Cup, with their best performance to date coming way back in 1975. In the Hague in 2014, they finished in 12th place in their first appearance at the event since 2002.
This is a new Malaysia however and, in Razie Rahim and Faizal Saari they have players of world class quality. Throughout the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London, Malaysia grew into the competition: two of the highlights of their performance was their 5-1 win over China and an unexpected 3-2 win against higher-ranked India. For the team ranked 13th in the world, this is a true reflection of the ambitions of the Hockey World League – to allow developing nations to pursue and achieve their ambitions.
After thrashing the Olympic champions Argentina in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in London, the Netherlands will arrive in Bhubaneswar next year confident of a good showing at this blue riband event. The Oranje are no strangers to World Cup success: they have won the title three times; been runners-up on a further three occasions and have two bronze medals. While they took silver, behind Australia, in 2014 in the Hague, their last win was back in 1998, so Max Caldas and his team will be determined to record a first victory this century.
Caldas is a canny coach who led the Netherlands women to a gold in 2014. He has already seen his team sweep to a magnificent victory in the EuroHockey Finals in 2015 and the manner of their win over Argentina to qualify for the World Cup indicates that Max is finding his Midas touch again.
New Zealand qualified for this year’s World Cup thanks to their performance at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg, South Africa. There they recorded impressive victories against Japan and Egypt but despite hopes of securing automatic qualification for the Bhubaneswar event they came up short against Ireland in the 5v6 classification match, losing 1-0. That meant they faced an anxious wait to see if that result was good enough, in the hope that one of the Continental champions had already qualified. The results at the Pan American Cup in Lancaster, USA went in favour of New Zealand’s Black Sticks as both teams playing in the final – Argentina and Canada – had already qualified for the World Cup via the Hockey World League route.
New Zealand are no strangers to this showcase event having competed nine times but never having finished better than seventh. This year’s ambitious and skilful team will be hoping to build on their Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medal as Darren Smith’s team aim to surprise opponents with their deadly attacks built from a solid defence.
Pakistan men have an enviable record in World Cup competition, having lifted the famous trophy on a record four occasions as well as twice claiming the silver medal. The Green Shirts were victorious at the 1971, 1978, 1982 and 1994 events, with their four titles being one more than three time winners Netherlands and Australia.
Pakistan became the 13th team to qualify for next year's global showpiece after favourable results at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships, with their seventh place finish at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London proving good enough. It is a welcome return to World Cup action for this famous hockey playing nation, following their failure to qualify for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014 which took place in The Hague, Netherlands. They will be determined to make the most of their opportunity in Bhubaneswar.
South Africa men’s hockey team qualified for their sixth World Cup after beating Egypt in a closely contested final at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations that took place in Ismailia, Egypt.
For coach Sheldon Rostron and his players, this is a welcome return to top flight competition after they were unable to participate at the Rio 2016 Olympics, only the second time they had missed an Olympic Games [apart from Sydney 2000] since South Africa was welcomed back onto the main stage after the end of apartheid. When it comes to Hockey World Cup appearances, the South Africa men’s team has played at every World Cup since 1994, with the exception of 1998. They have finished 10th twice (1994 and 2010), 12th (2006), 13th in 2002 and 11th in the last edition in 2014.
South Africa are currently ranked 15th in the world and will be hopeful of a successful return to top flight competition after a few years of mediocre performances and the inevitable slide down the rankings. The introduction of a new professional domestic league in South Africa, plus the confidence garnered from a good win at the continental qualifier will mean that Rostron and his team will go to Bhubaneswar buoyed with confidence. The team is a balanced mix of new talent such as Ryan Julius and Lance Louw, alongside experienced players such as goalkeeper Rassie Pieterse and captain Tim Drummond.
A 8-1 loss at the hands of Australia in the third/fourth place match at the HWL Semi-Final in Johannesburg does not diminish Spain’s progress to qualification for the 2018 Hockey World Cup. Spain. The Red Sticks won four of their five pool matches, including a tight 4-3 win over New Zealand, and were unlucky to lose to Germany in the semi-finals, taking the match to shoot-out.
Spain are the nearly men of the World Cup. They have been present at every edition and have flirted with the medal positions, finishing second on two occasions – 1971 and 1994 – and third in 2006. Four fifth place finishes in the event however, are a frustration to this ambitious hockey nation and the team will be looking to build on its fourth place finish at the HWL Semi-Finals in Johannesburg with a good performance in the HWL Final before looking for a medal in Bhubaneswar in 2018.