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Suryakant Jena

Bhubaneswar: After an enthralling inauguration of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup yesterday, the stage is all set for a historic fight among World's top 16 teams for the coveted 14th Men’s Hockey World Cup title.

All eyes will now zoom in on the eight-time Olympic champions& hosts India who will open their campaign against a strong South Africa, in what could be a high-voltage clash. The pool-C match will begin at 7 pm today.

The Kalinga Stadium is expected to witness a full house as team India led by skipper Manpreet Singh along with local lads Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas will look to open their campaign with a win.

Ahead of the crucial opener, Indian Hockey team chief coach Harendra Singh visited Lord Lingaraj temple in Bhubaneswar this morning and prayed for His blessings.

"I expect the team to start with a positive result and we are very optimistic. We want to grab good points by going match by match and not concentrate on the finals," Singh said.

The coach further added that two local boys Birendra Lakra and Amit Rohidas can do wonders for their country in this World Cup as the crowd will be behind them.

“I would advice my players to focus on basics and use the support of Bhubaneswar crowd as their strength. They must not take their eyes off the ball if they want to outperform the opponents. We know South Africa is quite fast on the turf and we will try to break their swiftness. We will have to play attacking hockey and regularly stop the counter-attacks," mentioned Singh during a press conference yesterday.

Despite being the most successful team in Olympic hockey with eight golds, India have won the World Cup only once, way back in 1975 and it will be sort of miracle if World No.5 India managed to break this long barren run this time round.

Under the current coach Harendra Singh, the Indian team has shown a lot of promise by winning silver at the Champions Trophy, a bronze at the Asian Games and recently the Asian Champions Trophy title.

The 19-day tournament will kick off with the first match between Belgium and Canada in another Pool-C encounter beginning 5 pm today.

Meanwhile, the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack has been all decked up for the World Cup Celebrations event scheduled to be held today evening which will showcase Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, Bahubali Prabhas and A.R.Rahman.

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