New Delhi [India], November 21 (ANI): With the FIH Odisha Men's Hockey World Cup 2023 just around the corner, former Netherlands midfielder Stephan Veen revealed his favourites for the tournament, which is set to take place in January.
Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, India, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand, England, France, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa, Japan, Chile, and Wales are the 16 teams, who will be competing in the tournament.
"I think India has grown as a team over the last couple of years. They have a home advantage now, they are much more experienced. So, India would be one of my top picks. I think Australia as well. But, beware of Netherlands, Germany and Spain," Hockey India quoted Veen as saying.
"In tournaments like World Cup and the Olympics, there's always one or two surprises, so it's difficult to predict. For spectators, great games are coming up, and that's good for our sport," he added.
The former midfielder's first honours with the Netherlands came at the age of just 19, winning the 1990 World Cup in Lahore. He was part of a solid Dutch side that defeated the hosts Pakistan 3-1 in the final to clinch the title.
"That was my first big tournament as an international player. I think I was 19 years at that moment, and it was in Lahore. We played the final against Pakistan in Pakistan at the biggest stadium in the world at that time. We were 1-0 behind, a great goal was scored by Shahbaz Ahmad. And finally, we won 3-1 through goals from Floris Jan Bovelander and Gijs Weterings. It was my first big tournament and I immediately became the World Champion. It was amazing and a great first experience to play in front of a crowd in Asia," Veen recalled.
After winning Gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Veen took over the Netherlands' captaincy and led the team to many successes including the 1998 World Cup glory at home and the Gold medal feat at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The Netherlands edged past Spain 3-2 in the final to clinch the 1998 World Cup in front of the home crowd in Utrecht. Sharing his memories from the tournament, the former captain stated that "it was kind of one big party".
"It was the first time in the Netherlands that it was organized in such an environment. They transformed a soccer stadium into a field hockey stadium, I think 20,000 people were watching the game. And, a lot of side events were organised at that moment, inside and outside the stadium. That has been the landmark for many other tournaments organised in the Netherlands," the legendary midfielder reminisced.
He further added that the 1998 World Cup is one of the best tournaments he has ever played.
"People are still talking about that tournament, about the atmosphere, and of course, the performance. Playing for your home crowd is the best thing you can experience as a player. And in the end, we won against Spain in an amazing final, playing in front of friends, in front of a lot of people involved in field hockey, so it was an amazing tournament, and maybe one of the best tournaments I've ever played," Veen expressed.
When asked about the reasons behind the Netherlands' consistency during his time, the World Cup-winning Captain highlighted that a great mixture of leadership, tactics, and quality of players were the strengths of his team in the 90s.
"Of course, we had a great team, there was a lot of quality in it. The Dutch would like to attack, but I think we found the balance between defending and attacking with great penalty corner specialists and midfielders. I also believe that there was strong leadership within the team, not only Captains but players also took responsibility when it was necessary during the game," said Veen, who was named FIH Player of the Year in 1998 and 2000.
"I think if you got the attitude to improve every game, in every single training, and have the persistence to keep on going, despite setbacks, that's where it all starts. If that mentality is in the team, you've got a great base to build and grow. A lot of players had that mentality in the 90s. There were different personalities with different approaches and leadership styles. Our opponents couldn't predict where the danger would come from and that was our strength. The coaches' tactics at that time also helped us. But, it's all about small differences that decide the game, and we were able to recognise those important moments during the game," he added. (ANI)