Bhubaneswar prepares for Hockey's 'Confederations Cup'

Sen: An open tournament on the cards at Bhubaneshwar (1:30)

Debayan Sen previews the Hockey World League Finals set to start December 1. (1:30)

Eight of the best teams in men's hockey are in Bhubaneswar and will compete in the World League Final between December 1 and 10. In many ways, this is a dress rehearsal -- mirroring the Confederations Cup of football in that sense -- as they will return for the men's World Cup alongside eight other nations at the same venue for the 2018 World Cup that begins from November 28.

So what is the World League Final, and why should you get excited about this? Here's a ready reckoner.

What is this tournament?

A competition conceived in 2012-2013 as a qualifier for the 2014 World Cup, it is into its third and potentially the last edition, as the International Hockey Federation (FIH) seeks to restructure global hockey after the 2018 World Cup. FIH wants to do this with a global home-and-away league called the Pro League, which will effectively become a qualifier for the Olympics as well as the World Cup in both men's and women's hockey.

The World League is played in four stages. Rounds 1 and 2, followed by two Semi-finals tournaments. The top four from the two Semi-finals are the eight teams here in Bhubaneswar.

The logo for the 2018 men's World Cup is unveiled at the Kalinga Stadium amid fireworks, slated to start in exactly 364 days from today. The chief minister Naveen Patnaik keeps his speech down to the time taken to type this.

Debayan Sen5y ago

What's at stake?

Truth be told, not a lot. The eight teams that are here are already qualified for the World Cup next year. The winner is assured of a place in next year's Champions Trophy in Netherlands, which will also be the last of its kind. Wanting to be a part of the six-team Champions Trophy makes winning this event more of a motivation for European teams like Belgium and Spain, who will neither have an Asian Games nor a Commonwealth Games next year to prepare for the World Cup.

This tournament will offer all teams a chance to blood some youngsters into the main team ahead of the World Cup. India has hosted a number of big tournaments in recent years, including the junior World Cup, where India's Varun Kumar, Harmanpreet Singh, Dipsan Tirkey and Gurjant Singh were impressive and were all part of the winning Indian team. Expect them to stake a claim for regular starting places.

What is the field and format?

The pools with their respective world rankings look like this:

Pool A - Argentina (1), Netherlands (4), Belgium (3) and Spain (9)

Pool B - Australia (2), Germany (5), India (6) and England (7)

Each team plays the other in the pool stages and then they cross over for the quarter-finals. This effectively means you can lose all your pool games and still go on to win the tournament if you can put together three successive wins in the knockout stages.

How are teams approaching this?

For India coach Sjoerd Marijne, a good performance in the World League Final will set India up perfectly for a busy 2018. "The one tournament that is most important is the Olympics (in) 2020. To qualify for that, you have win the Asian Games. But to be good at the Asian Games, you have to be good at the World League Final and then you have to be good at the Commonwealth Games," says Marijne.

Belgium's New Zealand-born coach Shane McLeod believes the format of the tournament could see some teams leave the best for the knockouts. "There'll be things that you won't see for sure in the first three games, but everyone's trying to improve and to improve you have to play well," says McLeod, who believes this field is open to any of the teams. "I think the standard's going to be really high, and I think it's going to be quite a spectacular tournament. If you win this tournament, I think you have done a good job and you are one of the best teams in the world at this moment."