India topped the pool table to earn a direct entry in the quarterfinals of the ongoing 2018 Men's Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar but the team awaits a stern test as they face World No.4 Netherlands on Thursday to book a berth in the semis. Ahead of the crucial encounter, hockey legend and former India skipper Dilip Tirkey has hailed the performance of the team so far in the tournament. Terming it as a "very tough" World Cup for the home team, the legendary full-back also said that the current attacking game of the team can be rated as one of the best.
"I would rate it as a very tough World Cup. Considering the difficulty level, India have performed brilliantly," Tirkey said while addressing a group of 30 young journalists from across the country and neighbouring nations at the SJFI Young Reporters Programme.
"Our team is one of the fittest teams in this World Cup. The way we are attacking, I can rate it as one of the best. Even group tackling, particularly in the match against Canada has been of top quality. Game sense has improved tremendously.
"We have seen a lot of short corner goals while the penetration inside the D has been impressive this World Cup," he added.
On being asked how has the Indian team's playing style changed from his days, Tirkey said: "Today we are playing total hockey, where a full back is allowed to march forward which gives a lot of liberty to the midfielders and the forwards while during our days the positions were marked.
"The game has become much more flexible while during my days it was more rigid or traditional," he added.
Tirkey, who hails from the hockey hub of the country -- the tribal regions of Odisha -- praised the state government's efforts in reviving the traditional sport's popularity across the country.
"There was a day when no one came to watch hockey matches or for that matter the audience was very much scattered but today the scene in Indian hockey has changed," he said.
"We are experiencing a dearth of tickets this World Cup and it is all due of the efforts of the Odisha government in promoting the game and the love of the fans that has helped revive the popularity of this great game.
"The Kalinga Stadium is a world class effort. Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik has focused and invested a lot on sports, particularly hockey. Kalinga Lancers was the first government-owned franchise in the country, hosting the HWL Finals, then the World Cup, it is getting bigger," he added.
(With IANS inputs)