Pace and aggression versus power and caution. Strategy against perseverance — what will triumph?
That’s the question being asked as teams with contrasting styles meet in the FIH Hockey World Cup semifinals at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium on Thursday.
Australia are the speed merchants of world hockey; they try to outpace and outplay their opponents with attacking hockey. In the first semifinal, they face The Netherlands, a team that mixes power with caution.
The other semifinal pits defending champions Germany, seeking a hat-trick of titles, against England. Germany’s forte is their workman-like approach and solid planning. They have players who stick to a plan come hail or high waters.
England, on the other hand, have been a revelation — the world’s sixth best team has played the best hockey so far and reached the last-four stage for the first time since 1986. They have overcome a number of setbacks, losing players like Matt Daly, Simon Mantell and Richard Mantell to injuries. Their grit and determination have impressed one and all.
The teams are closely matched and it is difficult for even someone like Aussie coach Ric Charlesworth to predict the outcome. “Both matches are very tough and, I think, they are 50:50 affairs as all four teams are strong and competitive,” said the Australian chief coach after his team's practice session on Wednesday.
Charlesworth said his boys would have to be careful as Holland play a cautious game, but, in the same breath, he said Australia had an age advantage. “They have more experienced players. Half of our team is new and that’s a challenge but our team is developing,” said Charlesworth.
The coach will be looking up to his skipper Jamie Dwyer, midfielder Luke Doerner, Robert Hammond and defender Mark Knowles to make the most of the opportunities. Goalkeeper Nathan Burgers' role too will be crucial.
Though speed and aggression are Australia’s forte, they will have to mix dollops of caution as the Dutch have strong forwards like Teun de Nooijer, Ronald Brouwer and Jeroen Hertzberger. Drag-flicker Taeke Taekema is a constant threat. “We know what Taekema can do. He is one of the best drag-flickers,” said Charlesworth.
England will have to rework their strategy a bit to tackle Germany and coach Jason Lee said his boys were up to the task. “We have as good a chance as anyone. We have rebuilt this squad in the last few years and can’t afford to slip up again,” said Lee.
On the absence of Richard Mantell, Lee said his team was experienced enough to play without him. “We have been playing without Richard in the defence for the past two years. His long hits from the back helped us build our attacks. But now the strategy will have to change a bit. We may have to start our attacks from the midfield,” he said.
Germany, on the other hand, are tricky customers. The only undefeated side in this tournament, they have played solid hockey and have the goods to overcome England. In Florian Fuchs and Oliver Korn, they have good attackers, while Moritz Furste and Jan-Marco Montag have done well in short corners. Martin Haner and Maximillian Muller have marshalled their defence admirably.
Though the teams are evenly matched, going by form book, the 2010 edition may again see Germany battling it out against Australia in the final.