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Best of the best move Indoor Hockey World Cup

With the Indoor Hockey World Cup taking place in less than a month’s time, we look at the development of the game and preview the showcase event.
Fast, furious and great entertainment, indoor hockey is the lesser-known relative of the outdoor game, but with the advent of the fourth Indoor World Cup in Leipzig, Germany, in February, the sport is making waves around the world.

While some countries taking part in the showcase event are old hands at the sport – both Germany and Canada have competed in every World Cup – for debutant countries such as Sweden men and Belgium women this is a step into the unknown.

So just what is it about indoor hockey that makes it so exciting? Surely it is just a mini version of the outdoor game?

In fact nothing could be further from the truth, indoor hockey is a sport that calls for skills and abilities that can be very different from the outdoor game and, perhaps surprisingly, not all outdoor players make good indoor players. The fundamentals are the same: players use sticks, albeit lighter and flatter; the ball is the same dimension as an outdoor ball, although slightly lighter; the aim is to score goals past a ‘keeper padded in protective clothing; there are penalty corners and penalty strokes. But the game is lightening fast; it is usually high scoring; the ball is not allowed to leave the ground unless it is a shot at goal so it skids at high speed across the polished surface; and one mistake or bad touch will almost certainly result in lost possession and possibly a goal-scoring chance.

The sport first became popular in Europe in the 1950s, with Germany the driving force behind its development. While it initially became popular among players in northern Europe and Canada who wanted to continue to play their sport during the harsh winter months, it gradually spread across the globe and is today as popular in the warm climates of South Africa and Australia as it is in the chillier countries. Recognition of indoor hockey as a global sport came in 2003 when FIH organised the inaugural FIH World Indoor Hockey Championships in Germany in 2003. Since then Germany has dominated. The men’s team has won every World Cup and the women have won two of the three.

The approach to indoor hockey differs depending on where in the world you are. The indoor season in Europe tends to be in the two month period between the middle of December and the middle of February. This will be a time when clubs take a break from the domestic outdoor leagues and the indoor national competitions take centre stage, with many top outdoor players transferring to the indoor game. Other countries, such as South Africa, the Netherlands and Iran have squads that are dedicated indoor squads and they train and compete throughout the season as indoor players.

Iran and Sweden are both countries where outdoor pitches are a rarity, and so the indoor game gives hockey players a chance to develop their playing skills and techniques and experience international competition. The Iranians are the Asian indoor champions, and have ambitions to improve upon their 10th-place finish at the last edition.

Sweden has been making steady improvements in its indoor hockey performances over the last decade, gradually moving up through the leagues. But progress is often hampered by the popularity of two other hockey-based sports. Niclas Franzen, Sweden’s goalkeeper explains: “Ice hockey and street hockey are popular so we are always fighting for funding and media space. We have good indoor players in Sweden though and many would be a good fit in some of the top indoor club leagues in Europe.” Sweden’s preparations for this World Cup got off to a good start as they defeated fellow World Cup competitors Canada in the final of the Indoor Mason Cup, held in Denmark.

While some hockey players view indoor hockey as a means of honing outdoor skills, for others there is little comparison between the two. Tracey Martens, who is competing for South Africa in Leipzig says: “Indoor for sure! I love the pace and intensity of indoor and that you are always involved in the game, even as a defender you often find yourself in the attacking circle with a chance to score goals.”

The eyes of the hockey-loving world were on the Hague during May and June of 2014, but this February the excitement moves indoors, when 12 men’s teams and 12 women’s teams do battle to be crowned Indoor Hockey World Champions.

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