Hockey World Cup: How to watch hockey (and enjoy it)

Almost all of Harmanpreet's goals have come via dragflicks, an art so specialised that only a few can master it. GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

The FIH Men's Hockey World Cup gets underway on Friday and 16 of the world's best teams will battle it out in Odisha from January 13 to 29 for the ultimate prize.

Hockey is fun to watch but can be difficult to understand if you're just getting into the sport. This guide for beginners breaks down the game and explains its nuances and how to best follow the sport.

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Firstly, expect plenty of goals

Modern hockey has become more attacking in nature: the emphasis is on winning the ball high up the pitch, relentless running, quick passing, more penetrations of the circle (which is aka the D) and winning more penalty corners.

It's hard to keep a clean sheet, although the scorelines might shrink as the tournament progresses into the knockouts.

Secondly, expect plenty of penalty corners

Or as they earlier called it - short corners. The concept of penalty corners (PC) makes the sport unique and adds excitement. Teams aim to win numerous penalty corners because it's an avenue to score. It doesn't guarantee a goal but counts as a big chance to score. Almost like a free-kick in football.

A team's chances of winning are significantly higher if they have a PC specialist. Examples of some PC experts are India captain Harmanpreet Singh, Australia's Blake Govers and Alexander Hendrickx of Belgium.

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What is a penalty corner?

A penalty corner is given against the defending team for an infringement inside the penalty circle (15-metre) or deliberate foul in the 23-metre line.

A player (pusher) pushes the ball to the top of the circle from the back line, where another player (stopper) traps the ball before the dragflicker drags the ball just a bit and takes a shot on goal.

A maximum of five defenders (including the goalkeeper) line up on the goal line to save the shot. As the pusher pushes the ball, a few defenders (rushers) run towards the dragflicker to block the effort. It is quite a challenge for the goalkeeper to make a save amidst the many bodies in the circle.

It also need not be a drag-and-flick hit. Another style is a simple slap of the ball through the ground to beat the rushers and the goalkeeper.

Is it difficult to win penalty corners?

Yes and no. Teams who defend better can prevent conceding penalty corners, but the chances to win PCs are more when a team breaches the circle.

There are various ways to win PCs: it is awarded when the ball hits the defender's foot inside the 15m circle or also for severe offences like dangerous play. A team can also get a PC if defending team deliberately plays the ball over the backline.

Are matches decided on PCs?

They sure can and having a PC specialist helps.

Dragflicker Gonzalo Peillat was vital in Argentina winning the 2016 Olympic gold medal. Hendrickx played a big part in Belgium's golden run at the World Cup and Olympics. Harmanpreet was key to India's Tokyo Olympics bronze medal glory in 2021.

How's it different from a penalty stroke?

A penalty stroke is given when an infringement within the circle prevents a goal from being scored. Penalty strokes are just like penalty kicks in football. A one-on-one situation where an attacker is trying to score against the goalkeeper from seven yards or 6.47m.

What's a free hit?

A free hit is awarded when an opposition player commits a foul outside the circle. The ball has to be stationary and the nearest opposition player has to be five yards away when the free hit is taken. A free hit can also be a self-pass, but when it's not then the ball has to move at least a yard before it is passed to a teammate.

How many types of fouls are there in hockey?

Many. It's a foul when a player:

- uses his stick dangerously for a challenge
- uses the back of his stick
- challenges the ball by hitting the opponent's stick
- raises the ball dangerously
- pushes, shoves or dangerously advances for the ball
- shields the ball with the stick or body

Additionally, it's also a foul if a third player interferes with the play by blocking the path of an attacker.

Wow, so many?

Yes, and it does get confusing. It happens so quickly during the games and play restarts in a matter of seconds. It takes a minute or two to understand the nature of the foul and umpire's decision.

How many types of cards are there in hockey?

Green, yellow and red. The green card holds a two-minute suspension, a yellow can mean 5-10 minutes of suspension, while a red means the player misses the remainder of the game.

Why is hockey so fast?

That's one of the hallmarks of the sport. Hockey has evolved over the years - from being played on grass, to now on synthetic turfs. From permanent substitutions to rolling subs. The game has shifted from individual dribbling skills to high pressing and quick movements of the ball and from a 70-minute game of two halves to a 60-minute match of four quarters.

This is also one of the reasons why European nations and Australia have started dominating the sport while India, Pakistan and other Asian teams have fallen behind.

What are rolling substitutions?

Rolling substitutions allow players to be replaced multiple times during a match. While 11 players start the match, the six subs also have a major role to play.

Can you remove the goalkeeper during a match?

This generally happens when a team is chasing a game and the clock is running down. They remove the goalkeeper to gain the one-man advantage in the outfield over their opponents.

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What happens if a match ends in a draw?

In the knockout stages, a drawn match is decided by a penalty shootout - five chances per team. However, these are not penalty strokes.

In a penalty shootout, the attacker will run with the ball from the 23m line in a 1v1 situation with the goalkeeper. The attacker has eight seconds to score. If the goalkeeper unintentionally fouls, then the attacker gets another chance. If the goalkeeper intentionally fouls the attacker, then a penalty stroke is awarded.