A cracker of a contest on cards

A cracker of a contest on cards

THIRD TIME LUCKY? Australia will be looking to arrest the slide against Germans in the World Cup finals. AFP

As Australia prepare to take on Germany in the final of the Hero Honda World Cup hockey on Saturday, that is the big question on everyone’s lips.

Runners-up on two straight occasions, the Aussies have been the form team here but can they halt Germany from completing an unprecedented hat-trick of World Cup titles in history?

Till Thursday, the answer would have been in the affirmative. But after Germany’s commanding win over England in the semifinal, there will certainly an element of doubt as these great hockey nations clash in what should be a cracker at the Major Dhyanchand National Stadium.

Twenty-four years have gone by since Australia last lifted the World Cup. Germany have been the biggest stumbling block in their path, having thwarted them on the last two occasions. In an attempt to regain the title, the Aussies – coached by Ric Charlesworth, a key member of the1986 Cup-winning team – have followed only one credo at this tournament – all out attack.

Inspired by Jamie Dwyer in the middle, the Aussies have outsmarted every defence after the stumble in the opener against England. Their quick passes can create confusion and in the blink of an eye, the ball is inside the goal. Twenty-five goals in six matches underline the power of the Aussie forwardline with Glenn Turner and Desmond Abbott delivering tremendous opportunistic strikes. On the other hand, only seven goals have been scored against them with Kiel Brown and Graeme Begbie doing an outstanding job at the back.

Germany, the only unbeaten team in the tournament, have placed their faith on traditional strengths – a tight defence, methodical attacks, strong hits into the striking circle and defence-piercing deflections. Those methods took them to the semifinal and then they soared to another plane.

The way the Germans raised the game against England was incredible to say the least. Building their play on an outstanding defensive base laid by their skipper Max Muller, they cut England to size with goals at the right time. Germany might not look as classy as the Australians upfront, but they have scored 23 goals so far, only two less than the Australians, with penalty corners accounting for 12 of those strikes.

Indeed, short corners have been another area of German strength. They have uncorked several variations with nine of their players, including Martin Haner and Jan-Maro Montag, getting into the scorers’ list through set pieces. Australians have their own weapons in this area, with Luke Doerner jointly leading the scorers’ list with seven goals.

Aussie attack versus German defence or German precision versus Aussie power – whichever way you look at it, the teams look well-matched. Ultimately, it might well boil down to the hunger for success and Australia, beaten by Germany in the last two finals, could well want it more than the defending champions. But can they extinguish the burning ambitions of a young German team? Saturday night holds all the answers.

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