CWG '18: Taming mighty Australia key to India's progress

Hockey India

Indian men will face Pakistan in their opening match of the 2018 Commonwealth Games hockey tournament in Gold Coast, Australia, while the women begin their campaign against Wales on April 5, the opening day of competition.

Here are some takeaways from the groups and fixtures, announced earlier on Tuesday.

Nothing less than a final will be good enough for the men

India have been placed in Pool B with England, Pakistan, Wales and Malaysia. With two emphatic wins over their Asian rivals during the Asia Cup in Dhaka this October, they would be expected to compete for top spot in their group against England.

The real test could await them in the semi-finals, where they might come up against New Zealand. However, even if they make the final, they will need to break the hoodoo of successive defeats in Commonwealth Games finals to Australia, who have picked up every single gold since it was first on offer in the Kuala Lumpur edition in 1998. Australia beat India 8-0 in the 2010 final, and then 4-0 in Glasgow four years on.

Taming the Aussies in their own backyard could be the biggest challenge for all teams in the men's competition. Australia's near-invincible record means there's everything to play for when taking on them, especially for England and South Africa, who have never been able to progress beyond the semi-finals at the Commonwealth Games.

Indian women will have it tougher

While the Indian men begin their fixtures with the highest ranking of six among the five teams in their pool, the women will have World No. 2 England and the competitive South Africans for company in their pool. They begin with matches against Wales and Malaysia, though, and could hope to build up some momentum ahead of the semi-finals, which could probably see India and South Africa fighting for the second spot behind England.

Australia are the dominant team in the women's competition as well, having won four of five golds at the Games. They join New Zealand in a relatively easier looking pool in the women's competition. India have had some success in this competition, though, with the women stunning hosts England with a golden goal in the 2002 final in Manchester to clinch gold. Ahead of the World Cup next summer in England, they will look to get the best out of their encounters at the Commonwealth Games.

For the women, it's a great buildup for the World Cup

The women's World Cup comes up in London in July-August next year and the Commonwealth Games sees five of the 16 teams from London in action. India are placed in Pool B of the World Cup with Ireland, U.S. and hosts England, whom they face in the group stages of the Commonwealth Games. Similarly, Australia and New Zealand face each other in the pool stages in both Gold Coast as well as in London. South Africa complete the complement of World Cup-bound teams, and for all these sides, a chance to face the same opposition days ahead of the bigger competition will be valuable in chalking out strategy for the World Cup.

Predictions for medals

It is unlikely that Australia will let this opportunity slip for repeating their gold in men's hockey at the Commonwealth Games, and a relatively easy pool for them should see them top the group. Whom they face, and potentially beat, in the final could depend on how the other pool pans out, where India might edge England out to the top spot. It should make for an Australia-India final, and while Australia will start favourites, the margin of victory may not be as dramatic as before.

In the women's tournament, England might start as favourites, especially as they are building on a bigger player pool after Great Britain's first Olympic gold in 2016. Expect Australia or New Zealand to challenge for a silver, while India would do well to come into medal contention by reaching the last four.