New Delhi: India will start as overwhelming favourites in the men`s competition, while the eves are likely to face a tricky challenge when the Hockey World League (HWL) Round 2, a qualifying event for next year`s World Cup, begins here tomorrow.
In the men`s event, there will hardly be any competition for India, who got a bye into Round 2 by virtue of being ranked between number 9 and 16 in the world.
The stiffest challenge for the Indian men`s team led by Sardar Singh will come from Ireland, who are ranked 15th as compared to India`s 11th position.
China (18) also could turn out to be a party-pooper for the hosts as other participating nations Oman (36), Bangladesh (40) and Fiji (70) will be playing only for international exposure.
The Indian men`s team is expected to start the tournament with a big win against minnows Fiji at the Major Dhyan Chand Stadium tomorrow, followed by matches against Oman (on February 20), Ireland (February 21), China (February 23) and Bangladesh (February 24).
Notwithstanding, the quality of opposition sides in the tournament, the Indian men`s team cannot afford to take the event lightly as just an off day at office will be enough to spoil their 2014 World Cup dreams to be held at Hague in The Netherlands.
Back to national duty after fulfilling their commitments with respective franchises in the inaugural Hockey India League, the Indian male players will have to regroup themselves quickly.
Realising the importance of the tournament, India captain Sardar Singh had already warned his team against complacency.
"If we give our 100 per cent and play to our potential we will win the tournament. But we cannot take any side lightly in modern day hockey. To add to that, it is a qualifying event for the World Cup," he said
"China and Ireland are no pushovers. So we will have to be on our guard against these two sides," Sardar added.
On the other hand, the tournament could be more challenging for the Indian women`s team to be captained by Ritu Rani.
Japan -- ranked 9th -- start as the favourites in the women`s competition. But the 12th ranked Indians are sure to give a tough fight to the Japanese.
Just like the men`s event, the other participating nations in the women`s competition -- Fiji (59th), Russia (20th), Malaysia (22nd) and Kazakhstan (33) -- too lack teeth.
The Indian eves open their campaign against Kazakhstan tomorrow, followed by games against Malaysia, Fiji, Japan and Russia.
The HWL, floated by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) for men and women, will be held over a two-year cycle.
The first cycle, which started in August last year and would continue till February 2014, will serve as the qualifier for the World Cup, while the next two-year cycle would become a qualifying competition for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Eight teams from four Round 2 events (to be played on single pool round-robin format) will be eligible to participate in Round 3 (which will have two pools of four teams each followed by the classification matches).
The Round 2 will be played simultaneously at New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) and Elektrostal (Russia).
The eight top ranked sides in the world will get a bye directly to play in the two third round events, which will serve as the semi-finals.
The best six finishers in the semi-finals will make it to the World Cup or the Olympics. The host nation and five continental champions will complete in the remaining slots.
The top eight teams from the Hockey World League semi-finals will be eligible to take part in the final (which will follow the format of Round 3).