By SANDEEP NAKAI
NEW DELHI (AP) — A security blanket of 19,000 personnel will be employed to protect players and officials when the men’s hockey World Cup begins Sunday.
Apprehensions about security follow reported threats by some terrorist organizations against athletes visiting India. There will be security cordons put up in a three-kilometer radius around venues and accomodation.
“There were serious concerns about putting hockey players where their life is threatened when all they want to do is play hockey,” England team manager Andy Halliday said of the media reports. “So we went through a rigid investigation of the security arrangements and we’ve been happy with what we see here.”
Security staff, including police and a paramilitary force, are covering the team hotels — where all staff and guests must pass through metal detectors and security checks — travel routes and match venues.
New Zealand captain Phillip Burrows said one of his players withdrew from the squad before the team left for India and other players were worried about the security.
“Most of them were worried, but we’re happy with the security provided to us,” Burrows said.
Australia is the top-seeded team in Group B and opens the tournament against European champion England on Sunday, when archrivals India and Pakistan meet and 2008 Olympic silver medalist Spain takes on South Africa.
Germany, which is seeking a hat-trick of World Cup titles, will open Group A on Monday against Asian champion South Korea, while Netherlands take on Argentina and New Zealand faces Canada.
Despite winning the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, Germany’s squad in India contains only three World Cup veterans. But captain Max Muller is not bothered by the inexperience.
“Germany is a relatively young side, but then we won the 2002 and 2006 World Cups with different teams,” he said.
Matthias Witthaus, Moritz Furste and Jan-Marco Montag are the only players from the 2006 champion team left in Germany’s squad that went on to win the Olympic title at Beijing in 2008.
Germany’s strongest challenger over recent years has been Australia, which clinched its first Olympic Games gold medal at Athens in 2004.
The Kookaburras rallied from a two-goal deficit at halftime to beat Germany 5-3 in the final of the Champions Trophy in December.
“Australia seems everyone’s favorite for the title,” Muller conceded. “The Australian team is looking in very good form.”
Striker Jamie Dwyer, the 2009 world player of the year and a 2004 Olympic champion, will lead an Australian team coached by Ric Charlesworth, a former World Cup winner.
The strike-power of Grant Schubbert and Edward Ockenden will support Dwyer along with penalty corner specialist Luke Doerner, whose two goals sparked that turnaround in the Champions Trophy final.
The Netherlands are hoping to recreate the form that saw it win three major titles between 1996 and 2000 — two Olympics and a World Cup.
Seasoned goalkeeper Gus Vogels has two Olympic gold medals and wants to add another title in what will be his final event before retirement.
“A World Cup gold medal is all that’s missing from my medal collection,” said Vogels.
Tuen de Nooijer, among the game’s best midfielders in the past decade, and penalty corner specialist Taeke Taekema will bolster the Dutch attack.
Spanish skipper Pablo Amat is hoping to go one better than his two Olympic silver medals.
England’s European Cup title has revived hopes it can repeat its run of the 80s, when it reached the 1986 World Cup final and won the 1988 Olympic gold in Seoul.
Two injuries in the last week have been a setback, but England captain Barry Middleton says his team has the ability to advance at least to the semifinals.
Pakistan is the most successful nation in World Cup history, winning the title four times, but its last triumph came in Sydney in 1994.
The decline of Pakistan and India has taken the spotlight away from the subcontinent, which dominated world hockey for more than half a century.
India’s lone World Cup title came in 1975. Since then, India has slipped in the rankings, occupying the ninth, 10th and 11th positions in the past three World Cups.
India won the last of its eight Olympic gold medals in the boycott-hit Moscow Olympics of 1980. Since then, it has not managed to even enter the semifinals of seven Olympics and World Cups spread over three decades.
After failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, India is hoping for more with the backing of the home crowd.