Thrilling semis in offing with Aussie-Korea, Spain-Germany clashes
Monchengladbach, Sep 14: Olympic champions Australia start red hot favourite as they take on Asian Games Gold medallist Korea, while holders Germany face a daunting task against European champions Spain in the semifinal encounters of the 11th hockey World Cup here tomorrow.
Australia -- for whom this is the seventh successive semifinal entry in the World Cup -- would be looking to repeat their 1986 performance when they win this prestigious title in London while Korea, playing their second straight semifinals in this quadrennial competition, would like to become the third Asian country ever to make it to the finals.
In the second semifinal, Spain take on host Germany in a repeat of the 1998 World Cup clash in Utrecht when the former won 3-0 before losing to the Netherlands in the final.
Traditional rivals Spain and Germany know each other's game quite well and given the history of their previous encounters, this tie is going to be hard fought. Last year, Spain had won 3-2 in the semifinals of the European Championship and at Hamburg Masters earlier this year they won 5-2.
Germany, on the other hand, had very little success since 2002 World Cup. However, they put up a creditable show in the Champions Trophy held in Terrassa (Spain) last month where they finished runners up.
While Spain will be keen to extend their winning spree against the World champions, Germany, playing before home crowd, will go flat out to book a berth in the final and in the process avenge the 1998 defeat.
The Germans have an envious record in the World Cup. They have been among the top four finishers in nine of the previous 10 World Cups and are still smarting from the 3-0 defeat in the 1998 semifinal against Spain.
Michael Green, a member of that German squad, admitted that the defeat still hurts and hoped that the record would be reversed tomorrow.
The two have met 90 times with the Germans enjoying a 53-23 win-loss record. On present form, the Spaniards look the better team and if their forwards can find a way through the tight German defence, nothing should stop them from making their third appearance in a World Cup final.
Both teams boast of a bunch of talented young players who have graduated from the junior World Cup squad and as such, the contest promises to be keen and intense.
Of the four title contending teams, only Australia had started their campaign with a defeat in the league, losing to Spain before bouncing back in style to win their other four matches convincingly.
In the process, the Aussies displayed their awesome firepower that seen them score 18 goals, the most by any team in the league. Four years ago in Kuala Lumpur, the Australians choked in the final after enjoying a great run through the tournament, losing 2-1 to Germany. It strengthened the belief that the Aussies lacked big match temperament, something their coach Barry Dancer admitted to.
''But the Gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004 has helped our players to overcome this mental block and the present bunch is keen to add the one trophy missing in their collection,'' said Dancer.
Australia enjoy a great World Cup record, having finished in top four bracket in the previous eight competitions. They were eighth in the inaugural World Cup in 1971 and missed the next edition in 1973 and finished fifth in 1975. Since then, they have made it to the semifinals in every World Cup.
On paper, the Australians have the most balanced team that is capable of scoring from both penalty corner and open play situations. Their speed and precision passing makes them a difficult side to contain and the only major worry for Dancer is the sudden lapse in concentration that the Koreans could exploit.
The Koreans, on the other hand, have had an up-and-down run at the international level and this is only the fourth World Cup appearance, having finished eighth, seventh and fourth in the previous competitions. They, in fact, had to play the qualifying tournament in China earlier this year to book their ticket to Germany.
Like the Australians, the Korean game too is based on speed and counter-attacks. Their persistence can be quite telling on the rival defenders who simply cannot afford to relax. On their day, the Koreans have shown they can beat the best, like they did in their opening league fixture when they humbled the mighty Dutch, a result that took out the tournament favourites.
But Australia will be a different proposition for the Koreans who have won only seven matches in 52 head-to-head clashes. Australia were winners 33 times with the remaining games being drawn. On their recent tour of Australia, the Koreans were comprehensively beaten and their form points to a similar result on the morrow.
Tomorrow's fixtures: (For 5th to 9th placings): New Zealand vs England (1600 hrs); the Netherlands vs Pakistan (1830 hrs) Semi-finals: Australia vs Korea (2100 hrs) Germany vs Spain (2345 hrs)