Australia biggest threat to Germany's hat-trick bid

Australia biggest threat to Germany's hat-trick bid

The biggest prizes in the sport – the Olympic gold medal and the World Cup – are in German hands but their reign is under serious threat this time, with Australia looming as the major challenger.

Twelve teams are in fray in the quadrennial extravaganza at the magnificent Dhyanchand National Stadium but their enviable record in recent times means the European powerhouse and the men from Down Under will be under special focus in the 12th edition of the championship.

Germany are gunning for an unprecedented third title in a row while Australia are desperate to touch the trophy which last graced their shelves 24 summers ago. Brimming with talent and driven by a burning desire for success, the two could well roll out some spectacular play in the real home of hockey.

The Germans would want us to believe that they are in the rebuilding phase after losing out a clutch of players since their last World Cup campaign. But they did notch an Olympic triumph in between and have the ability to lift their game to match the occasion.

That big-match temperament was the clincher at the Olympic Games as well as at the World Cup last time when they came back from 1-3 down to beat Australia 4-3 in the final. But the Aussies did pay back in the same coin at the Champions Trophy in Melbourne in December when they shaped a turnaround from 1-3 to post a stunning 5-3 verdict.

No pushovers

Ranked No 1 in the world, Germany will face off against the fourth-ranked Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, Canada and Argentina in Pool A. While Markus Weise’s men are the favourites to come through to the semifinals, the other teams are no pushovers, with the Netherlands and South Korea too seriously in the hunt.

The Netherlands, three-time champions, have not really lived up to their reputation in recent times. But veteran Teun de Nooijer, playing in his fifth World Cup, and penalty corner expert Taeke Taekema can still pack a punch even though they have a poor record against South Korea, having lost five of their last six clashes.

The Koreans have taken over from Pakistan and India as the Asian spearheads, making the semifinals in the last two editions. They have been pretty quiet in their build-up and will be hoping to go one-up this time around.

Australia look a cut above in Pool B. Coached by Ric Charlesworth – who was part of their 1986 Cup winning squad – they have a formidable line up. Featuring the likes of three-time World Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer and Grand Schubert, the Aussies are a fine blend of speed and style. And as the German captain Max Muller put it, you could see the ‘desisre in their eyes’ now, after successive final defeats in 2002 and 2006.

India and Pakistan would love to be in the same bracket but sadly, they are not there, at least not yet. For the hosts and their neighbours, this is a chance to make their way back, even if they might want to believe otherwise.

Spain and European champions England are the other contenders in the pool and both will fancy their chances here. Olympic silver winners Spain will rely on Pablo Amat to chart their way forward while England, despite losing Simon Mantell to an injury, have the ability to surprise, with the likes of Ashley Jackson – the hero of their European triumph – in their ranks.

Talent, and plenty of it, abounds in the twelve contenders, setting the stage for a true celebration of hockey. Unfortunately, incompetent organisation threatens to play spoilsport. But for it, hockey could have looked forward to a spectacular homecoming.

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