THE FIELD HOCKEY WORLD CUP 2018
By Adam Hassan
The Men’s Hockey World Cup is an international Field Hockey competition organised by the International Hockey Federation (FIH). The tournament was started in 1971 and is held every four years. Pakistan is the most successful team, having won the tournament 4 times. The Netherlands and Australia have each won 3 titles, and Germany has won 2 titles.
The 2018 tournament was held in December, in India. The 16 teams were drawn into four groups, each containing four teams. The composition of the groups was determined by the world rankings. A round robin tournament was then played. The first-placed team in each group advanced to the quarter-finals, while the second and third-placed teams went into the crossover matches. From there, a single-elimination tournament was played.
The final was played between Belgium and the Netherlands, a match-up steeped in rivalry across multiple sports. Neither team could break the 0-0 deadlock in what was the only goalless match of the World Cup, so the match entered the penalty shoot-out stage.
In a penalty shootout in Hockey, an attacker starts on the 23-metre line with the ball and the opposition goalkeeper starts on the goal line. When the whistle is blown, the attacker has 8 seconds to score a goal. The penalty shoot-out uses 5 players chosen from each team. It is a best-of-five competition and, if scores are tied at the end of this, it progresses to sudden-death with the same 5 players until a winner is established. Sudden-death is started by the team that did not start the shoot-out.
Belgium won the penalty shoot-out 3-2, giving them their maiden Hockey World Cup title. This was also Belgium’s first ever world title in a team sport. At the conclusion of the match, Belgium displaced Australia as the top-ranked men’s team in the FIH World Rankings.
Field Hockey is the world’s third most popular sport, with an estimated two billion fans worldwide. In the UK, while Hockey receives widespread television coverage during the Olympics, coverage outside of that is small, especially relative to its participation level. From an audience perspective, Hockey, like football, is easy to follow and universally understood. The game has attackers and defenders, passing and tackling, and each goal constitutes one point, making Hockey the ideal game for traditional sports fans. Hockey used to be very popular when it was played on grass, and it was played in almost every school in England. However, Hockey started being played on AstroTurf in the 1970s, and although this improved the quality of the game, it meant that much fewer people could play it. Now, hardly any schools in England play Hockey, which is one of the main reasons why it has become such a niche sport.
The introduction of AstroTurf has also changed Hockey on an international level. Until the early 1970s, Hockey globally was played on grass, and Pakistan and India dominated world Hockey. All that changed in the mid-1970s. The FIH altered the rules to make synthetic AstroTurf the mandatory playing surface for international Hockey tournaments. India and Pakistan have few AstroTurf grounds, because they are so expensive to lay. While grass, on which Hockey had been played internationally for nearly a century, allowed skilled Indian and Pakistani players to trap the ball, dribble and pass, using their incredible wrist strength, AstroTurf suits the physicality of European and Australian Hockey players based on raw power rather than technical skill. Affluent Western countries like Holland, Germany and Australia have hundreds of AstroTurf grounds. The advantage is palpable. Not surprisingly, since 1980, Europe and Australia have dominated world Hockey, while India and Pakistan have slipped out of the world’s top five Hockey-playing nations.