Australia, Belgium teams arrive for HWL Final

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Bhubaneswar: Defending champions Australia and world number three Belgium arrived to a rousing reception at the Biju Patnaik International Airport here on Sunday for the Men’s Hockey World League (HWL) Final, which is scheduled to begin at Kalinga Stadium here on December 1.

The teams were welcomed by Odisha state government officials accompanied by host Hockey India (HI) amidst hockey buffs longing to click a picture with their favourite international stars.

Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands will arrive in the city on Monday, said a statement.

With the top teams in the world vying to live up to the billing, it will be hard to predict or single out one team as a clear winner, expressed Australia chief coach Colin Batch.

“You can’t predict which team will make the Final of the tournament. If you see the Sentinel Women’s Hockey World League Final in Auckland, it was hard to predict till the end who will make the final.

“It is a matter of playing well early on and play your best hockey from the quarter-finals onwards. It is going to be an exciting tournament in that respect. We have played England, Spain and Belgium earlier this year so it will be important to assess our team against the other top teams of the world,” Batch stated.

The defending champions will meet India in their first Pool B match on the opening day of the tournament and Batch expects a good contest.

“They (India) are playing at home and will have big expectations. They have some talented players from the Junior World Cup last year where they did very well. We play them in our first match which I am sure will have a good atmosphere and I am very much looking forward to that,” added the coach.

Australia has two changes in their squad with siblings Tom and Ben Craig missing out due to injuries and are replaced by young duo Lachlan Sharp and Jake Harvie.

Meanwhile, Belgium coach Shane McLeod emphasized the importance of this tournament in the lead up to next year’s World Cup which will be played here.

“With the World Cup next year, it will be interesting to see where we stand against the top teams of the world. This is a good opportunity to try out combinations and some of the younger players who are making a transition into the senior squad. We have four players from the Junior World Cup squad last year,” McLeod said.

Earlier this year, prior to the European Championship, Belgium played two matches against India and McLeod believes India has a fresh-looking team with unpredictable combinations.

“They have been playing good attacking hockey lately and with talented youngsters coming into the team, they have a fresh look and most importantly unpredictable combinations,” he added.

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