MarkKnowles
(Photo by Michael Willson)

 

It’s ‘Day Three’ at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia and the games are turning out to be a heady mix of action and entertainment at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre . 

Just two days into the tournament, big guns England and New Zealand have already made their intentions clear by scoring high and causing a few upsets. England sent Malaysia running for cover in a 7-0 win in their Pool B match, while New Zealand walloped Canada 6-2 in Pool A.

Before the start of the quadrennial event, focus was squarely on world no. 1 Australia — who have been the dominant force in the history of the Commonwealth Games, picking up all five golds since 1998 — but it is turning out to be an altogether different affair and there could be some surprises ahead.

Dragflick’s game analyst and writer, Meghna Kapoor provides an insight into the games this year and some predictions of who could possibly be taking home the gold medal on April 15.

Australia: The invincibles

Focus is clearly on Australia and India, the two teams who have played the finals of the 2010 edition in New Delhi and Glasgow 2014. The result was similar on both occasions — with Australia winning 8-0 and 4-0, respectively.

Consistency is their middle name and Australia will be keen to add yet another gold medal to their kitty as they look to give a memorable farewell to captain Knowles, who has already announced that this will be his last tournament.

Since hockey’s inclusion to the Games in 1998, Australia have taken home the gold on every occasion and there are reasons enough to believe that it could happen for a sixth time as the team exudes confidence and top form. Add to it is the fact that they will enjoy home support in what promises to be an exhilarating 10 days of hockey.

India: Manpreet’s boys eye gold

India, on the other hand, do not have a rich history in the Commonwealth Games but have been among the most improved teams in recent past.

Their fortunes turned around under coach Jose Brasa in 2010 when they enthralled the home crowd with some outstanding displays, only to fizzle out in the final on at the Major Dhyan National Hockey Stadium in New Delhi. The 0-8 verdict though handed them their first ever men’s hockey medal — a silver — at the Commonwealth Games, a feat they repeated in 2014.

Having finished as runners-up, India would be keen to go a step further this time. Skipper Manpreet has already announced that “nothing less than a gold would do” for his boys but it will be a tough test for the young team, who are traveling with relatively inexperienced players.

The men in blue will look to set the precedent for a successful year in which they also host the World Cup and will be defending their Asian Games gold at Jakarta.

India are coached by the 43-year-old Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, whose “player-driven” approach has brought in results in the last few months but the real test will come at the Commonwealth Games — the big stage where the teams will be unwilling to give an inch with a lot at stake.

Veterans S.V. Sunil, P.R. Sreejesh and Rupinderpal Singh will carry the nation’s hopes as India look to break the gold jinx at the quadrennial event.

Pakistan: New-look under Oltmans

And then there are the ever-predictable Pakistan who will be keen to make it count as they eye resurgence under Oltmans. The 1-1 draw against Wales in the opening match might have come as a bit of a shock for them but Pakistan have the ability to surprise.

Pakistan have endured hard times in recent past when they even missed the 2016 Rio Olympics but rebuilding has begun.

The Commonwealth Games is their first big tournament in a long time and the green shirts will be keen to roll out form of old, when they used to give tough competition to almost all teams.

New Zealand: Eyeing podium finish

New Zealand are the other strong contenders and have the capability of turning it around on their day.

New Zealand last won a medal at the CWG in 2002 and came close in 2014 when they reached the semifinals, only to lose to India.

This time, they will be keen to make their way forward and have a fairly experienced team led by Arun Panchia. Shea McAleese, with 258 caps, is their most accomplished player along with Hugo Inglis, Cory Bennett and Stephen Jenness.

England: Ready to strike

England, bronze medal finishers at Glasgow, have nine Olympians in their 18-member team and will be no pushovers. The team will depend on their experienced stalwarts in Barry Middleton, Adam Dixon, Mark Gleghorne and George Pinner.

The Three Lions showed what they are capable in their massive 7-0 onslaught of the Malaysia in their opening match here and will have eyes on the gold. Experience will be key to their campaign and the rest will have to at their feet to keep this inspired lot quiet.

South Africa: Up for big battle

South Africa are back in business having missed the 2016 Rio Olympics, despite having qualified for the mega event.

The South Africa federation didn’t have enough funds to send the team to Rio and the side will be keen to make up for lost time in International hockey as they eye consistent results.

The early loss to Scotland (2-4) must have hurt the Proteas, who were reminded of how woefully out of touch they have been from international hockey. The team are not among the contenders but are known for their hard work and gritty displays.

Canada: The giantkillers

Mark Pearson, a veteran of more than 200 caps, will lead Canada who had finished sixth in the last edition.

The team has young faces and will be keen to give a tough fight to their rivals. Of late, the side has produced good results and even defeated India and New Zealand last summer.

With only the top two from each group advancing to the semifinals, Canada may not appear favourites in the company of Australia and New Zealand, but they will be tricky customers.

Malaysia: The surprise element

Malaysia have the ability to surprise and it is this element that will keep their opponents on their toes. They though will miss the services of the legendary goalkeeper S. Kumar, who found his name in a dope mess.

Wales: Big dreams

Wales are the lowest ranked team in the tournament but a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in the first match would have boosted their confidence and fueled their dreams. Lewis Prosser and Luke Hawker share captaincy duties for Wales, and the presence of Great Britain rising star Dan Kyriakides and brother James adds to the side’s depth.

Scotland: The gritty lot

World no. 23 Scotland made quite an opening statement at the Games here, defeating South Africa — a team ranked eight places above them — to start their Commonwealth Games on a high note.

Scotland have made slow progress in world hockey and the squad earned promotion to the top tier after victory in this year’s Men’s Eurohockey Championship II.

They face Australia, Canada and New Zealand next and even though an upset is not on the cards, Scotland will seek to challenge their mighty opponents.

Team’s world rankings

Australia world no. 1, India (no. 6), England (no. 7), New Zealand (no. 9), Canada (no. 11), Malaysia (no. 12), Pakistan (no. 13), South Africa (no. 15), Scotland (no. 23), Wales (no. 24)

  1. Pool A: Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Scotland.
  2. Pool B: India, Pakistan, England, Malaysia and Wales.