Will India's 2014 World Cup hockey berth finally depend on minnows Fiji?
A fairly complex process adopted by the international hockey federation (FIH) has identified 11 out of the 12 teams that will participate in the 2014 World Cup to be played in The Hague, Netherlands. For India, winning the Asia Cup final against South Korea on Sunday, is a sure-shot path to make the world championship.
India are within sniffing distance of a spot in the 2014 World Cup of hockey in the Netherlands after South Korea defeated Pakistan in a semifinal match of the Asia Cup in Ipoh, Malaysia on Friday. The defeat brought gloom in the Pakistan camp because for the first time in 42 years, the Asian giants will not feature in a world championship. (Read: Pakistan mourn 'darkest day in sports')
India will guarantee themselves a berth in the World Cup if they can beat Korea in the Asia Cup final in Ipoh on Sunday. Earlier this week, India had beaten the Koreans, the defending champions, 2-0 in the group stage. In case of a defeat, India will still have a chance. Only in the extremely unlikely case of Fiji beating Australia or New Zealand to clinch the Oceania Cup, India will lose out on a World Cup spot. (Read: Indian Olympians urge team to focus on improving before 2014 World Cup)
Interestingly, it was Pakistan that mooted the idea of a World Cup. The first World Cup was played in Barcelona, Spain in 1971 and Pakistan won the 10-team tournament while India finished third. Pakistan have won the World Cup the maximum number of four times while India won just once in 1975.
The 2014 edition will be the first time when Pakistan will not play in a World Cup. Pakistan had to win the Asia Cup to qualify but Korea shattered their dreams and effectively opened the path for India and Malaysia.
The men's 2014 World Cup will be a 12-team event. Ten teams have already been identified, India are virtually assured while the last team will come from Africa. The first seven qualifiers were selected from the top three of the two World League semifinals held in Rotterdam and Johor Bahru (Malaysia).
Germany, Argentina and England qualified from the Johor Bahru leg while Belgium, Australia and Netherlands made it from the Rotterdam leg. But since the Dutch qualify as hosts, New Zealand, the highest (FIH) ranked fourth finisher in the World League semis, became the seventh team to qualify.
That left five more slots to fill. Korea (fourth in Johor Bahru) qualified as first reserve courtesy Argentina's victory in the Pan-American Cup, Spain (fifth in Rotterdam) qualified as second reserve thanks to Germany's win in the European championship.
Both Malaysia, fifth in World League and a third reserve for the World Cup, and India (sixth in Rotterdam and fourth reserve) are virtually assured of a spot in the World Cup but a lot will depend on Sunday's Asia Cup final against Korea. Â
If India beat Korea in the final, they will gain a direct entry as continental champions. If India lose to Korea, then Malaysia will go through and Sardar Singh's team will have to wait for the Oceania championship to finish in October-November.
The Oceania Cup is traditionally fought between Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Since Australia and New Zealand have already qualified for the World Cup and one of them is expected to win the continental meet, India will benefit from the vacant Oceania spot to qualify as a reserve team.
The 12th and last team will be identified from Africa.