Resurgent Australia hope to defend their gold medal against a strong field in Beijing as men's hockey celebrates 100 years at the Olympics without former masters India.
The Kookaburras, who won their first Olympic gold at Athens four years ago, reclaimed the number one ranking at Germany's expense by lifting the elite Champions Trophy in the Netherlands last month.
The victory revived coach Barry Dancer's men, who had struggled to build on their Olympic success after losing to Germany in the final of both the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Champions Trophy.
Dancer said the tag of being the world's number one team would mean little when the 12-nation competition, expected to be one of the closest in the sport's history, opens in Beijing.
“Teams such as Germany, the Netherlands and Spain are all quality teams who, along with a number of other countries, are all capable of winning gold at Beijing,” he said.
“But in saying that, the Australian team has shown steady signs of improvement throughout the last six months and deserve whatever praise comes their way.”
Field hockey was first played at the Summer Games in London in 1908 with six teams drawn from England, Ireland and Scotland, but it was not until the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928 it became a regular medal sport.
India reigned supreme on grass with six consecutive titles from 1928 to 1956 and two more in Tokyo in 1964 and Moscow in 1980, but have fallen on such hard times that they failed to qualify for Beijing.
The Indians will miss the Olympics for the first time after losing to Great Britain in a qualifying tournament in Chile in April, adding to the misery of a failed Asian Games campaign in Doha in 2006.
“No one wanted to see India out of the Olympics but the reality is that the best 12 nations have qualified for Beijing,” said International Hockey Federation (FIH) chief Els van Breda Vriesman.
“The hockey world will obviously miss India, but I am confident they will come back stronger and ready to take on the world again.”
Germany, meanwhile, are looking to end a 16-year drought and wrest the Olympic gold medal they last won as a unified team in Barcelona in 1992 and, before that, as West Germany in 1972.
The Germans were embarrassingly confined to a bronze medal in Athens four years ago despite being the reigning World Cup champions, but have conjured a remarkable
revival since then.
They retained the World Cup title at home in Munchengladbach in 2006 and won the Champions Trophy in Malaysia in 2007, but only managed fifth place in this year's edition.
Germany’s failure to finish among the top three in the European championships, thereby missing out on a direct entry to Beijing, proved to be a minor hiccup in their search for glory.
The Germans won the Olympic qualifier in April without conceding a goal in the tournament that included formidable opponents in hosts Japan and Malaysia.
Germany’s revival has been masterminded by coach Markus Weise, who fashioned the women’s gold medal winning campaign in Athens before taking over the men following Bernhard Peters' switch to