New Delhi: Cashing in on the success of inaugural Hockey India League (HIL), the International Hockey Federation (FIH) is ready to foster the Hockey World League in India - when Round 2 of the competition kicks off here from February 18.
The league is divided into two phases. The first phase, which began in August and runs until February 2014, serves as the 2014 World Cup qualifier while in the second it turns into a qualifying tournament for the Olympics.
In all, 54 countries are part of the men's competition and 45 women's.
India got a bye into Round 2 by virtue of being ranked between No. 9 and 16 in the world and will be joined by the qualifiers from Round 1. Round 2 will be played at New Delhi, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Saint-Germain-en-Laye (France) and Elektrostal (Russia).
Only seven of the twenty-four teams playing Round 2 (winners plus three highest-ranked second-placed teams from four Round 2 events) will make it to the next stage - the semi-finals. Nine top ranked teams will join these qualifiers from the first two rounds for two 8-team events scheduled to be played at Netherlands and Malaysia in June-July this year.
Eight teams from the semi-finals will make it to the finals to be played in February 2014.
Like men, the India women also got a first-round bye on virtue of their ranking and will now play Round 2, which will have four events in Cape Town (South Africa), New Delhi, Valencia (Spain) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil).
Eight teams (top 2 from each event) qualify from here to join the 8 top-ranked teams for the semi-finals in June-July. From there, 8 teams progress to the final.
The stiffest challenge for the men - led by Sardar Singh - is going to come from Ireland, who are ranked 15th compared to India at 11. With Oman (36), Bangladesh (40) and Fiji (70) playing only for international exposure more than anything else, the only team that could prove to be the party pooper is China (18).
The tournament is more challenging for the Indian women, who will be captained by Ritu Rani. Japan - ranked 9th - enter the tournament as the favourites to finish on top but can expect solid resistance from the 12th-ranked India. While Fiji (59th) could be the tournament's punching bag, Russia (20th), Malaysia (22nd) and Kazakhstan (33) can't be treated as pushovers. Had Japan been in the top 8, they would have got a bye in the second round as well.
Indian men's and women's team will play their opening matches against Fiji and Kazakhstan, respectively, on February 18 at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in the capital.