The 2023 World Cup, in Bhubaneshwar and Rourkela, is the 15th edition of the Men’s Hockey World Cup. As hosts, India have qualified automatically, which made them one of only four sides to feature in every single edition of the tournament, along with Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.
The golden days of Indian hockey were approaching its end but there was still enough steam in the Indian side in the first half of the 1970s. They topped the group to reach the semi-finals in the first edition, in Barcelona 1971, only to lose to Pakistan.
They improved on that in Amstelveen in 1973, where they met the hosts in the final. Surjit Singh Randhawa (the Player of the Tournament) put India 2-0 up inside eight minutes, but Ties Kruize scored twice to equalise. The match went into extra-time, when BP Govinda missed a penalty stroke, and the Netherlands won 4-2 in tie-breakers.
In Kuala Lumpur 1975, India surpassed their previous records by becoming the first non-hosts to win the World Cup. Zahid Sheikh put arch rivals Pakistan ahead early in the match, but Surjit scored, as did Ashok Kumar, and India lifted the trophy for the only time in history.
A star of the 1972 and 1976 Olympics as well as the 1974 and 1978 Asian Games, Surjit died in a car crash at only 32. Dakhla, his native village, was later renamed Surjit Singh Wala.
India have never made it to the top four of a World Cup since 1975. It seemed improbable that this streak of 11 barren tournaments would end — until they won a medal at the Olympics after a 31-year hiatus. If one run can end, why not another?
India are pitted with Spain, England, and World Cup debutants Wales in Group D of the 2023 World Cup. Here is how India have fared against the teams.
India first met Spain in the 1973 edition, in a league match at the Wagener Stadium in Amstelveen. Surjit scored both goals in their win. In Buenos Aires 1978, neither team made it to the top four, and Spain won the fifth-place match 2-0.
The teams did not meet when India hosted the World Cup for the first time, in Bombay in 1982. Four years later, in London 1986, Spain beat India 2-1 as MM Somaya’s goal went in vain.
The teams did not meet until the crossovers in Kuala Lumpur 2002. After finishing fifth out of seven teams in the group, Dillion, Jugraj Singh, and Deepak Thakur helped India thrash Spain 3-0.
At New Delhi in 2010, Spain went 2-0 up by the half-time. Sandeep Singh scored four minutes after play began, but within three minutes of that, Spain went 4-1 up in the match. Gurwinder Singh Chandi reduced the deficit, only for Pau Quemada to help Spain inflict a 5-2 thrashing, their biggest margin of victory against India at the World Cup.
Neither team was at their best at The Hague in 2012. India did have a chance when Rupinder Pal Singh scored, but Vicens Ruiz found the goal six minutes later, and that was that. This remains the last World Cup encounter between the sides.
Recently, they met four times in the Pro League, twice in each of 2021-22 and 2022-23. The head-to-head record reads, from India’s point of view, 5-4, 3-5, 2-3, and 2-2.
However, India did have a famous win against Spain at the Tokyo Olympics, two days after they were routed 1-7 by Australia. Simranjeet Singh scored once and Rupinder Pal Singh twice to trigger a four-match winning streak that would be halted only by eventual gold medalists Belgium. India would later beat Germany to win bronze.
India and England first clashed in 1975 at the Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur. Victor Philips struck twice to help India win 2-1 en route to their only title. England did better in Buenos Aires three years later, holding India to a 1-1 draw.
The teams next met in Sydney 1994, where Mukesh Kumar’s 45th-minute goal clinched the fifth-place decider for India. In the next clash, in Kuala Lumpur 2002, Danny Hall put England ahead, Dilip Tirkey equalised, but Hall scored again before Tom Bertram netted a third goal. Baljit Singh Dhillon put one back immediately afterwards, but England held on to the lead.
India started better in Monchengladbach 2006 when Shivendra Singh put them ahead in the 28th minute. They held on to the lead until well into the second half before England scored thrice in the space of eight minutes. A late goal from Tirkey was not enough to save the day.
India’s home humiliation continued in New Delhi 2010. After 2-5 defeats against both Australia and Spain, they were down by three goals against England until the 54th minute. Chandi and Rajpal Singh made it 2-3, but that was never going to be enough.
Dharamvir Singh helped India equalise at The Hague in 2012, but a last-minute goal by Simon Mantell helped England clinch the match. The teams have not met in the World Cup since.
At the Pro League 2021-22, India beat England 3-3 and won 4-3, but more famously, they beat Great Britain 3-1 in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics, thanks to goals from Dilpreet Singh, Gurjant Singh, and Hardik Singh.
India won silver at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games. They met England after a resounding 11-0 win against Ghana. In the goal-fest that ensued, Lalit Upadhyay scored once and Mandeep Singh twice to put India 3-0 up. However, England had a late burst, and despite a goal by Harmanpreet Singh, the match ended in a 4-4 draw.
After the draw against England, India went on to beat Canada 8-0 before meeting Wales. Here, Harmanpreet did the hat-trick before Gurjant put in a fourth, and all Wales could manage was a late consolation goal.
While having had even results against both Spain and England in recent past, India will take field as outright favourites against Wales this time. A win against Spain or England, or two draws, should see them past the league stage.