With less than 100 days to go for the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, the anticipation to witness the world’s best hockey players at one of the world’s most preferred hockey destinations – Odisha, is only increasing by each passing day. While the Indian team carries out its preparations to end the medal drought in the prestigious event, it’s time for hockey fans to relive the memories of India’s historic World Cup campaigns.
Winner of the gold medal in the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon, and a mainstay in the Indian team, the legendary VR Raghunath, who was part of two World Cup campaigns, recalls his memories from the years gone by.
One of the deadliest dragflickers to have ever worn the Indian team jersey, VR Raghunath played his senior World Cup as a teenager in Mönchengladbach in Germany. The fullback went on to play over 300 games for his country at the highest level, and noted that there is nothing that matches up to the excitement of being part of a World Cup.
“When I went as a teenager to the World Cup in 2006, it was a great experience and it taught me about the international arena and the kind of pressure that’s associated with it. I learnt to handle pressure in the toughest games and realised that you just cannot make mistakes in the World Cup,” Raghunath said.
Over the next decade, Raghunath had become one of the tallest members of the Indian team and was one of the players the youngsters would look up to when the World Cup in 2014 came around.
“I always told the players to give their best individually, so that it would reflect on the team’s performances. My seniors used to tell me to relax and play my natural game, but when it comes to the World Cup, it’s tough to do that, there is always some amount of nerves, unless you have played 80-100 games for your country. Dilip Tirkey was always very helpful, and it was only in my second World Cup that I really understood the advice they used to give.”
Speaking about playing in front of your own fans, Raghunath rates the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar as one of the best places he has ever played in.
“Having played in Germany, Holland and other countries, I can safely say that the Kalinga Stadium is one of the best in the world. The atmosphere is very different from a lot of stadiums due to the way it is designed, the sound the fans make gets magnified. The support from the fans is immense and it helps bring out the very best among the Indian players.”
‘India Among Medal Contenders'
The Indian team will be greeted by a similar electric atmosphere at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela, and Raghunath feels that the team is among the best in the world currently.
“We are definitely the medal contenders for the mega event. We’ll have the advantage of the home ground and the home fans and we should cash in on that for sure,” he said.
“Recently, we got a medal in Tokyo Olympics 2020 as well and it would be fantastic to finish this tournament with a medal also. And if they can do that it will be a really memorable moment for the players,” he added.
While Raghunath backs the experienced Indian team to put in a mighty performance in January, he also expects the likes of Australia to be right up there as well.
“I feel Belgium and Australia will be two teams who are very difficult to defeat. And I wish the Indian team all the best for the mega event in Odisha and hopefully, we can all celebrate a podium finish at the end,” he signed off.