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Updated: May 31, 2014 04:26 IST

Will the Aussies rule again?

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READY TO FIRE: Australia, the overwhelming favourite and defending champion, begins its World Cup campaign against Malaysia on Saturday.
AP
READY TO FIRE: Australia, the overwhelming favourite and defending champion, begins its World Cup campaign against Malaysia on Saturday.

Hunt for crown gets underway today amidst an unusual mood of buoyancy

The quest for the hockey world title is to be set in motion on Saturday amidst an unusual mood of buoyancy. The aficionados are debating the chances of the 12 contenders.

The exercise is fascinating. But the pointers aiding the forecasts need cautious scrutiny. It is indisputable that the teams in the fray have gone through a gruelling set of qualifying competitions featuring almost all the hockey-playing nations.

The temptation to make Australia, the defending champion, from Pool A, the favourite is governed by the amalgam of experience and expertise possessed by the squad. Added to this is the genius of coach Ric Charlesworth whose means and methods defy the canons of predictability. With a star-cast that includes such outstanding players as Jamie Smith, Liam de Young, Mark Knowles and Robert Hammond the Aussies appear a safe bet.

Challenge for Australia may be England, given the recent alignment of power in Europe. Coach Bob Crutchley has a bunch of motivated players headed by the allrounder Ashley Jackson with support from Nick Catlin and Simon Mantell.

The danger team is Belgium. Under the Dutch coach, Marc Lammers, the Belgians have created a new script. Over 10 of their players are in the 100 cap bracket.

Placed 14th in its last edition in 2002 in Kuala Lumpur, Belgium will surprise many if it does not enter the semifinals.

Fighting to regain its identity is India. Dependent purely on the form of skipper Sardar Singh, the Indians, under the new coach, Terry Walsh, should ensure a degree of consistency to stay afloat.

The defenders, Rupinder Singh and Raghunath with goal-keeper Sreejesh hold the aces.

Veterans Eduard Tubau and Santi Freixa lend a veneer of stability for Spain, while for Malaysia, the return to the fold after 2002, is an event in itself.

Powerhouse

Germany, the champion in 2002 and 2006, and the runner-up in Delhi 2010, is a powerhouse. Marcus Weise, a marvellous designer of strategies, has assembled a wealth of talent in Christopher Zeller, Florian Fuchs, Oliver Korn and the youthful Christopher Ruhr, to execute his plans impeccably.

For the Dutch, the home advantage is a plus point. Winner of the trophy in 1998 at Utrecht, the Netherlands places its chances on the proficiency of Robert van der Horst. New Zealand is a tough nut to crack under the experienced midfielder Simon Child.

For all the expectations generated, the Koreans have remained an enigma. But they are the best bet from Asia. The Argentine coach, Carlos Retegui, expects a superlative show from attackers — Lucas Vilas and Mathias Parades — to showcase the South American flair. Where does South Africa figure in this equation is difficult to decipher.

The teams:

Pool A: Australia, England, Belgium, India, Spain and Malaysia.

Pool B: Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Argentina, Korea, South Africa.

Today’s matches (all times IST): Australia v Malaysia (2 p.m.); India v Belgium (7.30 p.m.); England v Spain (9 p.m.).

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