Teams grapple with schedule from hell

VR RaghunathDrag-flicker VR Raghunath (right) during practice at National Stadium in New Delhi on Tuesday (IE Photo Ravi Kanojia)

If players and coaches are to be believed, any team but most certainly not their own, are favourites at the Hero Hockey World League Finals.

"We may be the home team but there is no pressure on us," says VR Raghunath. The Indian drag flicker's modesty may be understandable considering the hosts are the second lowest ranked side(after Argentina) in the tournament. But it is unusual when the usually severe Markus Weisse, coach of current Olympic champions Germany cracks a grin and says "I don't think we are going to win the tournament."

The World League finals isn't a minor event in hockey's calender. The FIH aims to have it serve as a qualifying system to World Cups and Olympics and while all the teams who feature in Delhi have already qualified for the World Cup in Rotterdam, there are still plenty of ranking points on offer. So the lack of intensity or rather belief seems a little odd right at the start of the year.

Things make a little more sense considering how packed the rest of the 2014 schedule is. The World League is followed after a week's break by the Hockey India League. That tournament lasts until the end of February. Another couple of months later is the World Cup in Rotterdam. In the end of the year there is the Champions Trophy. For India, New Zealand, Australia and England, the second half of the year also features the Commonwealth Games, while the Asian Games is another big ticket event for India.

"It is a strange year for sure. I think the last time we had such a tight schedule was in 2006," says Mark Knowles, skipper of Australia, who also have to squeeze in the Azlan Shah tournament this year.

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