~ The Silver-medal winner from the 1973 World Cup believes the current India team have everything they need to win the World Cup trophy next year ~ 

With less than 100 days to go for the FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023, the anticipation to witness the world’s best hockey players at one of the world’s most preferred hockey destinations – Odisha, is only increasing by each passing day. While the Indian team carries out their preparations to end the medal drought in the prestigious event, it's time for the hockey fans to relive the memories from India's historic World Cup campaigns through Hockey India's Flashback Series - World Cup Special.

Through these Series of articles leading up to the marquee event in Odisha, Hockey India will bring you thoughts, anecdotes and trivia from Indian Hockey Legends who ruled the world with their wizardry and panache.

Image Credit: Charles Cornelius

Winner of the Bronze Medal in the 1971 World Cup held at the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain and the Silver Medal in the 1973 World Cup held at the Wegener Stadium in Amstelveen, Netherlands, Charles Cornelius recalls his memories from the two tournaments.

Back in the 1970s, there only used to be two major tournaments where field hockey was played between multiple nations - the Asian Games and the Olympics. Former Indian Men's Hockey Team goalkeeper Charles Cornelius recalled how the Indian team was motivated to go for the Gold medal at the inaugural World Cup edition in 1971.

"We had to wait for major tournaments for four years back in those days. Hence, our preparation for the first World Cup in 1971 was really good as we all had hunger to win. We were a very good side and we were well prepared by Late Shri Balbir Singh, who was the team manager and the Coach at the time, and hence we were able to win the Bronze medal," he recalled.

The Indian team got off to a good start in the tournament and were touted to be one of the favourites to lift the trophy. But their run was halted by Pakistan, in the Semi-Final, who won the contest 2-1 and then went on to lift the trophy.

"At that time, India vs Pakistan Men's Hockey match was the biggest match in the sport. We were the two teams who would always play in the final against each other. Pakistan was also a very strong side and we both wanted to win. But when you reach semi-finals, luck also comes into play," Cornelius said.

Cornelius went on to talk about how the team reacted to the 2-1 loss to Pakistan. "We all were very sad after the loss. All of us were really disheartened. Late Shri Balbir Singh was a three-time Olympic gold medallist and at first, he motivated the team, saying, 'come on, it happens. Get your hearts up. Never mind, we played well'.

"But then, when we were having lunch, he broke down and cried like a child. He said, 'how can I go to India after losing to Pakistan'. We cheered him up and consoled him. He was a great man," Cornelius said.

India received the opportunity to redeem themselves at the 1973 Men's Hockey World Cup Semi-Finals, where they once again had to face Pakistan. The former Indian goalkeeper recalled how a visit to a church motivated the team ahead of the crucial encounter.

"There were some superstitions at the time that Pakistan will win every cricket or hockey match on Friday. Our Semi-Final was on Friday and our players were psychologically down. I spoke to MP Ganesh, and I said, 'Gani, our team maybe thinking it is a Friday. But I tell you one thing, Friday is a Good Friday for us.' I took the team to a nearby church and we requested the priest to give his blessings to the team for the match against Pakistan," he recalled.

"We lit up the candles and we prayed. The priest told us, 'Friday is a good day for us, and you are going to win'. It really motivated the team and we played a beautiful game. Pakistan tried their best and they were a very hard team to beat. But we were blessed and we were able to reach the Final beating Pakistan," he further added.

'India have everything they need to win WC trophy': Cornelius

On being asked to evaluate how the modern hockey has changed from the 1970s, Cornelius spoke on a few changes in rules that have improved the quality of the sport and the players.

"Back in the day, only 11 players used to play and substitutions were called in only when someone was injured. Today, players keep coming out after 10 minutes, after playing with full energy and giving their all on the turf. The moment the oppositions attacks with a full press, if the ball is not in the team's possession, the defence has such good speed that they five men run back to cover their goals. This was not possible in our time, especially on grass field," he said.

"Another plus point is that now there are four halves of 15 minutes. So, there is a good chance of bouncing back," he added.

Speaking on the current Indian Men's Hockey team, Cornelius praised the players for bouncing back over the past couple of decades, and also lauded the Coaches for their efforts.

"The Indian team has drastically improved over the past couple of decades. I remember seeing a game in New Delhi where Netherlands beat India 9-0. Today, the Indian team is beating all top teams and giving them a tough time. This team is well prepared and extremely confident about their skills," Cornelius said.

"Hockey has come along in a very good way in India. I have to appreciate the players and the Coaches who have trained them. Today, these young players have courage and determination to win," he further said.

Cornelius further advised the Indian players to target to at least make it to the Semi-Finals at the upcoming FIH Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023 Bhubaneswar-Rourkela, after which, it will be anyone's game.

"All my good wishes are with the Indian Men's Hockey Team. I am confident the players have everything they need to win the trophy. The entire country and all the sportspersons will be supporting them and sending them their best wishes," he said.

"They have the courage, the quality, the determination to reach the Semi-Finals, after which any of the four teams can win, as a lot depends on luck. But I am confident that this Indian team have the tenacity to go all the way through and win the trophy once again," Cornelius signed off.

Link to video of Charles Cornelius taking us down memory lane -

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