New Delhi: Having gained the reputation of being the best professional league in the world since its inaugural in 2013, the fifth edition of the Hockey India League (HIL) is all set to enthrall hockey buffs once again when it gets underway at the Mahindra Hockey Stadium in Mumbai on January 21.
The tone of the league will be set with a strong opening match between Ranchi Rays, the most decorated team in the HIL having won the league twice, and Dabang Mumbai who would want to ensure a winning start in front of their home crowd.
Perfectly packed into a melange of top level hockey and entertainment, the league this year will ensure nail-biting action and unpredictable results. With the world's finest players, and as many as eight Rio Olympic medalists facing-off against each other, the spectators can be assured of the excitement and quality of play.
New foreign inclusions in the league such as Germany's Christopher Ruhr, Dutch skipper Robert van der Horst, Dutch midfielders Robbert Kemperman and Billy Bakker, defender Sander de Wijn, Australian forward Tom Craig, Belgium defenders Emmanuel Stockbroekx and Arthur Van Doren, forward Florent van Aubel, goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch will only add to the flavor of the month-long tournament.
Fresh from their exploits at the recently-concluded Junior World Cup, the members of the Indian junior men's team will make sure their respective teams benefit from their champion form while the other Indian and foreign players would want to gain as much exposure the league offers over the weeks and get a good start to an important calendar year with the World League Semi Final and Final slated to be held in 2017.
At this year's league, it is expected to see jaw-dropping saves from PR Sreejesh of Uttar Pradesh Wizards, venomous dragflicks by Argentina's Gonzalo Peillat, tactical dribbling by Ranchi Rays' Ashley Jackson and inspiring defence from Harmanpreet Singh of Dabang Mumbai.
With all teams perfectly poised with a mix of young and experienced players, there can be no one favourite, is the consensus of the players.
"It's hard to predict one favourite in the league simply because all teams are on par with each other and it all boils down to who plays the best hockey in the last three weeks of the league," expressed German legend Moritz Fuerste, Captain of the Kalinga Lancers.