Europe is the superpower of world hockey today. They have proved themselves in the ongoing World Cup, with three of the four semifinalists — Germany, England and The Netherlands — coming from the continent. Australia is the fourth side.
Germany face England in the first semifinal, which will be one of the toughest World Cup matches the Indian fans would have watched. Two-time champions Germany are looking for a hat-trick of titles, while England have proved themselves worthy of a semifinal slot. A strategic and well-planned game is in the offing and margin will be close.
England play a fast game, a mix of European and Asian hockey, and will attempt to avoid conceding penalty-corners. The English players to watch out for are Ashley Jackson and goalkeeper James Fair. Striker Jackson has very good skills and can change the game anytime. Fair has saved a lot of games and has been a consistent performer under the bar.
Germany’s forte is its strategy and game plan, which the players implement to the ‘T’. The player to watch out for will be Matthias Witthaus, who is skillful, gets goals in the dying minutes and can earn penalty-corners. Florian Fuchs, the youngest in the squad, and Muller, the fullback, are the other two players to watch.
Australia take on The Netherlands in the second semifinal, which should be an extremely fast and physical game. Jamie Dwyer and Glenn Turner are their main players. They have the ability to pierce through the rival defence at will. The Dutchmen will have to keep them in check with close man-to-man marking.
The Netherlands are lucky to be in the semifinals after going down to South Korea in the final league game, sneaking through on goal difference. The way the Koreans played, I had a feeling that they would qualify, and I am very disappointed that no Asian nation is among the four teams fighting for a place in the final.
Australia play the Asian style of hockey and seem to enjoy it. I hope they go the distance, if only to prove that Asian style too can help win major international competitions.
The Aussies stick to a plan, don't rely on the opponent's game to decide tactics and always show urgency. The attacking burst in the first 15 minutes is so intense that goals have to happen.
The Netherlands will face fast-paced hockey from the Aussies, supplemented with skills and long passes. No doubt, the Dutch too have experienced players, but they will have to play out of their skins.
Taeke Taekema, the highest scorer in this tournament, and captain Teun de Nooijer are the inspirational figures in the team. European hockey nations like Germany and The Netherlands have something in common. The national coaches decide the strategy for everyone. From my experience in the German league, the game plan is the same for the national team down to club sides and junior squads.
The Dutch also adopt the same approach. So, it is easy to understand why European hockey is flourishing.