3 player battles to watch out for in IND vs ESP competition

The Indian ice hockey team will kick off the FIH 2023 Men’s Ice Hockey World Championship on Friday, January 13 with a match against Spain. At the last edition of the biggest ice hockey event in the world, the hosts could only advance to the quarterfinals. They lost in the round of 16 of the 2018 edition to eventual runners-up Netherlands.

Spain, on the other hand, eliminated themselves in the first round, ending up at the bottom of their pool. This time they face an Indian team looking to continue the legacy of winning the bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, their first Olympic medal since 1982.

Both teams faced each other twice last year in the FIH Pro League at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. Spain won the first game 3-2 while the second game ended in a 2-2 draw before India won 3-1 on penalties.

Spain may have beaten the Indians in their FIH Pro League encounters, but since this is the Ice Hockey World Championship, the Indian team will bring their A-Game. It promises to be an exciting match.

While the overall performance of the team as a whole decides the outcome, some key players could have a big say in the competition. Looking ahead to the competition, we look at three player battles that will be crucial in determining who comes out on top in the Indian Ice Hockey World Championship opener.

#1 Adrian Rafi vs. Harmanpreet Singh

India have relied too much on their penalty-corner specialist Harmanpreet Singh to score goals. The burly defender is also a captain and therefore has to deliver again for his team. If he takes his position during a PC routine in India’s first Ice Hockey World Championship game, he will face off against Adrian Rafi, the Spanish goalkeeper.

Rafi is a very capable goalkeeper. But in Harmanpreet he meets one of the world’s best drag patchers. If the Spanish goalkeeper manages to keep the Indian skipper in the goalscoring department, it would aggravate India’s problems. So this competition will be very important.

#2 Enrique Gonzalez vs. Jarmanpreet Singh

Jarmanpreet Singh has emerged as one of India’s most important players in the post Tokyo Olympics era. The Great Sardar plays primarily as a defender, but makes its presence felt throughout the field.

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Against Spain he must try to stop the dangerous runs of the Spaniard Enrique Gonzalez. The Spanish midfielder has the ability to break through midfield quickly and open up opposition defences.

Jarmanpreet must use his agility and skill to stop Gonzalez before he can do any damage.

#3 Krishan Pathak vs Marc Miralles

In the current edition of the FIH Pro League, Krishan Pathak of India, long an understudy to PR Sreejesh, has come of age. His goalkeeping performance in the early games of the league has been exceptional and he could be the preferred option for India at the upcoming Ice Hockey World Championship.

His biggest test, as is usual for a goalkeeper, would come against penalty corners. When it comes to set pieces, he’s likely to face Marc Miralles, the Spanish team’s drag flick specialist.

If Pathak continues his good form at this Ice Hockey World Championship and manages to keep PC goals to a minimum, India will get a huge boost. Pathak’s talent is not to be underestimated.

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Edited by Akshay Saraswat

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