World Cup 2023 and the modern science of hockey

February 5, 2023

The sport has changed by leaps and bounds over the years

World Cup 2023 and the modern science of hockey

Shahnaz Sheikh

Former Olympian

The 2023 men Hockey World Cup was the 15th edition of the prestigious event held from January 13 to 29 in Bhubaneswar, India. Germany won the tournament for the third time to go level with Australia and Holland and just one step behind Pakistan, the record four times champions.

Belgium started the final with high speed and front foot mode. They took the lead and consolidated their position by hitting two goals but the Germans fought their way back and took the game into the shootout.

The ability of the Germans to hold their nerves was evident. In regular time, the score was 3-3. The Germans prevailed with a narrow margin of 5-4 in the shootout. Through this victory, the Germans got the top slot in FIH ranking. In the third position match, Holland beat Australia by 3-1.

The man of the tournament Nikles Wellien from Germany said after the match that their comeback proves that it is skill and not luck which decides the winner.

If we look at the performance of Belgium of the past 3-4 years, it has remained consistent but in modern fast-flowing hockey which is based on compact play, professional approach matters a lot for ultimate results.

The game of hockey has become so result oriented that if a team leading shows any slackness it pays heavily.

In the final as well as in the third position match the team that took the lead lost in the end. The game plan and the zoom penetration of the top teams are a carbon copy of the Pakistan attack in the past. The same strategy we once employed was applied in a modern way like straight zoom attacks/trio and give and go as well triangle with back up double defense line. All these tactics unfortunately have vanished from the Pakistan system.

The current players could not adapt themselves to the modern science of hockey. Subsequently we started doubting our system which brought 52 medals including 22 golds in various major international tournaments. All these technical and tactical combinations produced clinical hockey which are being used by top teams.

The top 4 Asian teams among the 16 hockey nations ended from 9 to 16. Even hosts India, who had a lot of hope could not find a place in the last four.

Former Indian coach Roelant Oltmans said that the early exit of the Indian team from the tournament was due to lack of tactical awareness and non-existence of club culture from the early stage.

Now the tournament’s statistics and what is modern hockey: 249 (field goals, 143; PC goals, 93; PS goals, 12) goals in 44 matches with the ratio of 5.65 per match indicates the speed of the game has become electrified and the only zoom and straight zonal attack will prevail.

The Pakistan hockey revival is the only solution in our golden system which we brought from the partition. We need to create a better pool of players and a competitive and repeated system of training to reconcile with the modern game. The on-the-field playing system should be advanced, without changing the system’s originality and shape, otherwise it would be difficult to qualify for Olympic 2024 Paris and World Cup 2026 which would be jointly hosted by Holland and Belgium. At the same time, we have to train our coaches on modern lines.

Look at India. It spent huge money on foreign coaches but the end result is 9th position in the world cup.

The performances, especially of low-ranked teams like Chile, indicate the speed of the game has been electrified and that only zoom and straight zonal attack will prevail.

On the field, the playing system should be modernised without changing the system’s originality and shape.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has to think of ways to increase the number of teams in the World Cup as there are more than 150 member nations.

That Pakistan did not qualify for the World Cup was immensely disappointing. One can only try to imagine the pain of a person who played three world cups and won two golds and one silver. I felt really sad while writing this article. Hope things get better in the future.

World Cup 2023 and the modern science of hockey