SPORT

The Aussie track record looks better

S. Thyagarajan

Kuala Lumpur: Visualising the course of a Cup final is like walking in a blind alley. Yet the temptation is irresistible on the eve of the contest involving the defending champion, Australia, and South Korea in the final of the Azlan Shah hockey tournament to be held on Sunday.

Form cannot serve as a yardstick. For, neither had exhibited it in a striking manner. Both were inconsistent and unsure of making the final. And in the league match, the teams shared six goals for a draw in a ding-dong battle as the Koreans came back in the last minute.

Interestingly, the Koreans have clinched this trophy only once, beating Australia in the final at Ipoh in 1996. Thereafter Korea had figured twice in the final in 1999 losing to Pakistan and to Germany in 2001.

The Aussies have a better track record, as they had three trophy triumphs in 1983, 1998 and last year to go along with a silver and two bronzes in their seven appearances. Indisputably, the figures tell their own tale. But once the teams cross swords numbers don't matter.

Experienced

A factor that favours the Olympic champion, Australia, is its experience. As many as 11 players, who figured in the gold medal triumph, are part of the outfit here. But the defence is missing Matthew Wells, who had to go home after an injury before the start. And the Aussies do miss the suspended Troy Elder.

Even a cursory glance at the team sheet shows the balance in the Aussie squad. But for some inexplicable reason the players failed to exhibit their potential. The forward movements were laboured even with strikers such as Craig Victory, Grant Schubert and Nathan Eglington.

The saving grace had been the mid-field where Brent Livermore worked hard with Jaime Dwyer and Micheal Boyce, helped immensely by Aaron Hopkins and Luke Doerner in penalty corners. Only a good deal of imagination and ingenuity can forge Australia into a winning combination on Sunday.

Inconsistent

The Koreans too were inconsistent with the defence looking vulnerable and wobbly. The struggles against New Zealand and South Africa clearly underlined their frailty. Coach Myung Jun Cho concedes his side is inexperienced but says it has the resilience to withstand pressure. Eun Seong Hong and Jong Ho Seo can threaten the defence with their sparkling solo runs. But the mid-field needs to be tightened enormously if it is to stop the combined thrust of the Aussies.

For the master strategist Barry Dancer this final comes as a litmus test to know whether the team is in perfect shape after the memorable Olympic triumph at Athens. But he is not going to let out his strategy to conquer the Koreans. In what can be read as a classic understatment, Barry Dancer said, "Australia will go in as the under dogs in the final."

No consolation

A fifth place for India — if it comes about against Malaysia on Sunday — will be of no consolation. That the team peaked after everything was lost was unfortunate. There were too many deficiencies to catalogue. Suffice it to say that there is nothing to cheer about. On the contrary, the end result here will be a cause for concern, which should set the administrators working on their priorities.

Sunday's matches: 5-6: India v Malaysia (1-35 p.m.); 3-4: New Zealand v Pakistan (3-35 p.m.); Final: South Korea v Australia (5-35 p.m.).

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