Interesting battle on the cards

S. Thyagarajan

ROTTERDAM: Even as the impact of the stunning reverse suffered by India on Friday is slowly sinking in, the focus shifts to the final of the Junior hockey World Cup on Sunday. Whether the Roger Danet Trophy is destined to travel again to the Oceanic region, where Australia reigns supreme, or will it get a new name inscribed from Latin America is on debate.

Impressive as the record is in favour of Australia, which won the cup last in 1997 at Milton Keynes against India, two silvers in 1982 and 1989, a bronze in 1993, there is no reason to doubt its competence now, even though the form displayed has been erratic. If the 7-1 win against Germany in the league was the high water mark, then the reverse against Argentina (1-3) and the draw (3-3) with Malaysia suggest the team is vulnerable.

Known, however, for its resilience and capacity to rise to the occasion, the Aussies will receive considerable backing. So far they have not shown themselves as a great striking force. But it is the individual proficiency of players like Colin Hennessey and Desmond Abbott that benefited the team immensely. Ian Smyth in the mid-field has been a notable performer.

Barring a silver at the last edition in Hobart against India in 2001, Argentina's record is nothing to speak about. Admittedly Argentina has always been an unpredictable force, playing a brand of hockey that at once is an exhibition of physical power and a projection of vivacious vibrancy.

Positive results

In a soccer mad country, hockey is just getting its due. The results have been extremely positive what with stars like Jorge Lombi being listed among the top stars in contemporary hockey. The recent win of the men's team at the Champions Challenge in Alexandria perhaps underlined the growing stature of Argentina, whose women's teams, however, have carved a separate niche for themselves as World and Olympic champions.

It is difficult to decipher any dogmatic format in the performance of Argentina here so far. The basic element is speed with power concentrated on hitting the target the moment it is visible. Interestingly enough, it is the only team among the 16 that has not lost a match so far.

Lucas Rossi and Lucas Vila have been among goals and capable of giving the Aussie defence a tough time. There is a noticeable element of passion in the approach which is to be the single motivating factor. The team is determined not to let go a chance unlike the last championship where it surrendered meekly to India.

A few poor decisions

Whether India will now go back with a bronze is a haunting question. The team locks horns with Spain, which blasted it with a 0-4 scoreline to obliterate the euphoria generated by the win against the Netherlands the previous evening. Friday's semifinal that Australia won 3-2, scoring three in the second half after trailing 0-2 at half-time, needs to be dissected on several counts.

Blaming the umpires — a theme always heard after any reverse — will be one part of it. No doubt there were a few decisions, particularly from the Malaysian umpire, Amarjit Singh, which appeared incomprehensible and deserve to be commented upon critically; but the question is why the attack froze as it did in the second half after that superb display in the first needs to be examined too.

There were palpable signs of players looking tired after endeavouring to match the pace of the Aussies. It was the desire and excitement to hang on to the 2-0 lead for the next 35 minutes that probably proved an invitation to disaster.

The defence seemed rattled whenever the ball rolled across the 25-yard line, uncertain how the Malaysian umpire would react, especially after he reversed a corner into penalty corner when a

player gestured that the ball touched last the Aussie stick. There was no compulsion for that but the penalty corner proved the harbinger for the eventual disaster.

That India should put back such painful moments, which our hapless teams endured now for years, and get ready for the Spaniards tomorrow is easily said. But it is doubtful whether the boys will be in that frame of mind. What needs to be emphasised here is that India was probably the only team that featured a string of skilled attackers who can thread and score a field goal. And they proved this more than once in this edition.

Saturday's results: 9-10: England 3 (Andrew Watts, Adam Dixon, Ashley Jackson (GG)) bt Malaysia 2 (Tajuddin, Kevinder Singh); 11-12: Belgium 3 (Jerome Tryuyens 2, Tys Maxime) bt Egypt 0; 13-14: South Africa 5 (Pierre Gerard, Philips Leroy, Mathew McConkey, Lugile Tsolekile) 2) bt Poland 3 (Karol Szplik, David Plewa, Rafal Szrejter); 15-16: Chile 3 (Sebastian Kapsch, Thomas Kannegiesser, Alexis Berczely) bt Mexico 1 (Roberto Garcia);

Placings decided on Saturday: 9. England, 10. Malaysia, 11. Belgium, 12. Egypt, 13. South Africa, 14. Poland, 15. Chile, 16. Mexico.

Friday's semifinal: Australia 3 (Des Abbott, Colin Hennessy 2) bt India 2 (Senthil Kumar, Sandeep Singh).

Sunday's matches: (5-6): Germany v Netherlands (1.30 p.m. IST); (7-8) Korea v Pakistan (2.30 p.m.); (3-4): India v Spain (4 p.m.); Final: Australia v Argentina (6.30 p.m.).

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