With an elusive world title in sight, Australia and the Netherlands would lock horns against each other in the first semifinal of the Hero Honda FIH World Cup at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here on Thursday.
Going by their past 4-4 win-loss record in the tournament, there is little to separate the two hockey powerhouses.
But a win tomorrow would not only earn one of the teams a spot in the title clash, it would also give them an edge when it boils down to rivalry between the two countries in the tournament.
For Australia, this year’s World Cup has an added significance after having finished runners-up in the previous two editions of the tournament — Kuala Lumpur (2002) and Monchengladbach, Germany (2006).
Holland, on the other hand, have a point to prove before the hockey fraternity following their recent slump in performance. The Dutch have won the World Cup thrice, the last of which came 12 years ago at Utrecht in 1998, in spite of having the most vibrant domestic structure back home.
The in-form Aussies have so far displayed a ruthless performance on the turf after their opening shocker against England and Ric Charlesworth’s boys would be hoping to carry on the same intensity in the knock-out stages to make it third time lucky for the Kookaburras.
The 2-3 defeat against England in their opening match seemed to have come as blessing in disguise for the Aussies as it helped them to tie up the loose strings, if any, to ensure their relentless march in Pool B.
Therafter, the Australians defeated Spain 2-0, India 5-2, South Africa 12-0 and Pakistan 2-1 to top Pool B.
The match would also be a treat to watch as both Australia and the Netherlands are known for their one-touch fast-paced hit and run style of play.
They Australians are the second-ranked side in the world even though Olympic and World Cup records (just one gold medal each) do not match with their formidable prowess.
The Netherlands, on the other hand, are very lucky to have progressed to the last four stage, edging South Korea on just goal difference.
The lacklustre Dutch side, placed fourth in world rankings, undoubtedly have to lift their performance against Australia if they wish to make a match, leave aside victory.
The Tuen de Nooijer-led side started with a bang with three consecutive wins — against Argentina, New Zealand and Canada — but lost their way in the latter half of the pool stages, having drawn 1-1 against a young and inexperienced German side and then lost 1-2 at the hands of Korea.
Ace dragflicker Taeke Taekema seemed to have lost his magic touch after registering the first hat-trick of the tournament against Argentina.
Holland coach Michel van den Heuval feels the match against Australia would be a totally different encounter and his side has learnt from their mistakes in the last two Pool A matches.
“We are gaining experience from every game, but the semifinal will be a new match. We have to get more spin, more power on to the ball to make it difficult for the Australians,” he said.
Veteran captain Nooijer, who is playing his fifth and last World Cup, agreed with his coach.
“Australia are big favourites, but again semifinal is a different match. It will be a tough game against Australia,” he said.