A rare history awaits defending champions Australia as they chase a record hat-trick of titles, taking on Netherlands in the semi-finals of the men’s hockey World Cup at the Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneshwar on Saturday.
World no 1 Australia is second only to four-time champions Pakistan, having won the world title thrice before, which includes back-to-back gold medals in the last two editions of the tournament in 2010 and 2014.
Come Saturday, the Kookaburras will be chasing their third consecutive world crown. But it would be easier said than done as, against world no 4 Netherlands, a tough contest awaits Australia.
The Dutch, who have won the title thrice before – the last time being in 1998 – too would be desperate to break their 20-year-old jinx. Netherlands would be high on confidence especially after their hard-fought 2-1 win over hosts India in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Going by form and world ranking, it is expected to be an edge-of-the-seat thriller between the two teams, whose styles are contrasting. While attacking hockey is the ethos of Australia, the Dutch prefer to play a waiting game with a compact defence, and rely more on counter-attacks to surprise their opponents.
There is hardly anything to differentiate between the two sides going by their recent head-to-head record. Since 2013, Australia and Netherlands have played each other 11 times with the Kookaburras winning five and losing four while two ended in draws.
The Australians made a slow start but grew in confidence as the tournament progressed. After a hard-fought 2-1 win over Ireland in their opener, Australia stepped on the accelerator and registered convincing wins over England (3-0), China (11-0) and France (3-0).
The Dutch, on the other hand, started with a bang and mauled Malaysia 7-0 before losing 1-4 to Germany. They defeated Pakistan 5-1 in their last pool match before beating Canada 5-0 in the cross-overs. Indian hearts were broken in close encounter.
The Australia-Netherlands match has all the makings of a classic. In 2014, at The Hague, Australia came out on top against Netherlands 6-1 to lift their second consecutive World Cup. And Saturday’s encounter will provide the Dutch an opportunity to avenge their loss from four years ago. Much has changed over the last four years, though
The likes of Jamie Dwyer, Mark Knowles and Glenn Turner have retired but the Australians have rebuilt brilliantly under coach Colin Batch since the disappointment of Rio Olympics, and have returned to the top of the world rankings.
The Oranje, on the other hand, are undoubtedly a tougher unit under Max Caldas now than they were four years ago. Australia’s Daniel Beale too agreed that it would be a tough, exciting battle on Saturday for a place in Sunday’s summit clash.
“We are into the crucial stage of the tournament. We got to watch last night’s match between Holland and India. So we have learnt a lot from that. We are expecting a very tough match tomorrow,” he said.
“We have very proud history. There is no special formula. We work hard, we train hard. We are fiercely competitive. Every tournament we go we go to win.”
Beale said what happened four years ago will hardly have any impact in Saturday’s must-win game. “In 2014, Australia had great success in the final but that was a long time ago and this group has changed immensely. So we are looking to create a bit of history,” Beale said.
“Holland are a very tough team. They have quality players. Billy (Bakker), (Robert) Kemperman, (Valentin) Verga. We wil do our homework and try to nullify them.”
(With inputs from PTI)
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