'To play my first World Cup match in front of a packed home ground against Pakistan felt like a dream. I can still feel the atmosphere, how the stadium was, how people reacted and how we won that match. That was the best moment for me as a youngster.'
All set to play in his fourth FIH men's hockey World Cup and the third on home soil, veteran India goalkeeper P R Sreejesh feels his team can do better than the quarter-final exit in the last edition, and even finish on top of the podium this time.
The showpiece begins in Rourkela on Friday.
India topped their pool after winning two matches and drawing one, but lost to eventual runners-up Netherlands 2-1 in the quarter-finals of the 2018 edition, which was played at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar, one of the two venues this time.
"It is a great honour for me to play my fourth World Cup for our country and the special part is, this is my third World Cup on home soil. I don't think any player has had this privilege of playing three World Cups at home," Sreejesh said ahead of India's first Pool D match against Spain on Friday.
"In 2018, we couldn't go into semis. Now, we have one more opportunity to change our fortunes at this mega event. Hopefully we can improve our previous performance and finish on top," he said.
India has not finished on the podium in 48 years since winning the gold in 1975 edition in Kuala Lumpur under the captaincy of Ajit Pal Singh.
The 34-year-old experienced goalkeeper, the second most capped player in the Indian team after Manpreet Singh, said results matter more than the number of times a player turns up for a marquee event like the World Cup.
"I've always felt it's not about how many times you have played a tournament but whether you have won it or not is what matters the most. This time too, it's important for me to give my 100 per cent and get the desired result from the tournament," said Sreejesh, who played a major role in India's historic bronze-winning feat in the Tokyo Olympics.
Sreejesh, who was named the FIH Goalkeeper of the Year, remembered his first outing at the World Cup when the head coach asked him to pad up to guard India's post against nemesis Pakistan. This was during the New Delhi edition in 2010.
"My first match in the World Cup was against Pakistan. I still remember, during the team meeting, our coach said that Pakistan will come fully prepared for goalkeeper Adrian (D'Souza) so he decided to put me in the match against them.
"When he asked me to pad up, the feeling of getting a chance was simply incredible," recalled Sreejesh, feeling nostalgic.
"To play my first World Cup match in front of a packed home ground against Pakistan felt like a dream. I can still feel the atmosphere, how the stadium was, how people reacted and how we won that match. That was the best moment for me as a youngster."
He also recalled India's outing in the following World Cup events.
"Every World Cup is special for a player but I distinctly remember the 2014 World Cup in Hague. We finished 9th unfortunately but we fought really well in that tournament. Personally, for me, I thought that was a great performance."