One of Indian hockey's most recognised faces, Viren Rasquinha, who won a Gold Medal in the 2001 Junior World Cup in Hobart, went on to live out his childhood dream five years later with the Indian Men's Hockey Team at the 2006 World Cup in Mönchengladbach, Germany.
While donning the Indian jersey ranks among the most important highlights in his life, Rasquinha also recalled the intense battles with arch-rivals Pakistan.
"For any young kid who is a hockey fan like me to get the opportunity to play at the Olympics or the World Cup is the ultimate dream. And when your name is announced as part of the squad for the World Cup, it meant everything to me. I know it meant so much to my parents, to my dad, especially who's such a massive hockey fan and to see the joy that it gave my parents and to feel that emotion of having the opportunity to play at the World Cup for your country, something that you've worked so hard for so many years, meant every everything to me," Rasquinha said.
The former midfielder was also part of the Indian Men's Hockey Team that played a series in Pakistan, and the 2004 Men's Champions Trophy in Lahore. For Rasquinha, the memories will forever be etched in his mind.
"I think it was an enthralling contest between two of the subcontinent giants and there was so much tension and rivalry at that time. Every single venue was packed to the rafters. I remember there was so much security at the hotels where the Indian and Pakistan teams were staying. And going from the hotel to the stadium and walking into the national stadium in Lahore with 60,000 people in the stands. I mean this was an unbelievable experience and you have to remember that was an excellent Pakistan team as well."
Rasquinha also was among the lucky few to have represented India at a major tournament on home turf, when he played in the Champions Trophy in Chennai.
Turning the clock back, Rasquinha said, "Well, there's no better feeling than to play for India in a major tournament in India. Of course, the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023 will be great, and in Odisha, people love their hockey. People understand hockey very deeply. They're very emotional and passionate about hockey, so it is amazing to play in that kind of atmosphere. The crowd will be really cheering on the players, and I think it gives a huge edge to any team."
'Excited With the Talent and Potential of Indian Men's Hockey Team', Says Viren Rasquinha
A veteran of many a close battle at the biggest stages of them all, Rasquinha said he, like all of the Indian hockey family, was delighted when the Indian Men's Hockey Team got the job done and bagged the Bronze Medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
"First of all, I think the Indian Men's Hockey Team gave us so much joy at Tokyo Olympics 2020 by winning an Olympic medal after 41 years. I'm excited about the talent and potential of this team. I think they can do really well at the FIH Odisha Hockey Men's Hockey World Cup Bhubaneswar-Rourkela 2023. They can go far, go deep into the tournament."
The former captain also had a word of advice for the Indian Men's Hockey Team, especially the younger players in the set-up – play with courage.
"Don't stress too much and have the courage. It takes courage to succeed. And play with courage. Play as a team and fight from the first whistle right up to the final hooter. You don't get too many opportunities in life to represent your country at the World Cup and this is an immense opportunity for many players to become stars and heroes that everyone will remember," he signed off.