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Dutch, Aussies shoot for third gold
August 06, 2004 09:12 IST
Last Updated: August 06, 2004 09:14 IST
The Olympic hockey tournament will be a race for records in Athens as the Dutch men and Australian women strive to win their third gold medals in a row.
But the pitch is crowded with teams who have beaten the holders in the last couple of years and are determined to climb to the top of the podium themselves.
The Dutch look like fierce defending champions but will have world champions Germany biting at their heels and seven-times semi-finalists Australia fighting for their first Olympic gold.
If the Dutch win again, they will be the first team to get three in a row since India in 1948-1956.
The Germans arrive in Athens fresh from snatching victory out of the Netherlands' hands in the dying minutes of July's Rabobank tournament but the Dutch boast a pack including player of the year Teun de Nooijer and corner specialist Taeke Taekema.
Corners are bound to play an important role at the Games but a new rule on how to defend against them could cause confusion.
The International Hockey Federation (IHF) ruled earlier this year that defenders could not charge directly at a penalty flick with the intention of being hit by the ball, so blocking the shot at goal with their bodies.
Umpires will now caution defenders who seem to be charging the flicks deliberately and will award another corner or even a penalty stroke if they keep offending.
Pakistani flick expert Sohail Abbas has welcomed the new rule as giving him more space but teams coming up against the 27-year-old player will have lost one of their key defences against his more-than-100-kph shots.
The speed of the flicks has sparked calls for the penalty corners to be limited to low shots although some players say that would rob the game of much of its drama.
Fans will be hoping some sparkle will be restored to the Indian team who need to forget off-field dramas of a last-minute coach change and spats over the selection of veteran striker Dhanraj Pillay and return to their once-flowing form.
Record-holding India, with eight golds to their name, have not won a medal since 1980, much to the dismay of their huge fan base.
In the women's field, Australia were the first team to win back-to-back Olympic titles in Sydney but have since slipped to second place in the world rankings with the 2000 silver medallists and current world champions Argentina darting ahead.
This time, Australia will be running on to the pitch without Ric Charlesworth as their coach but, with seven former Olympians heading to Athens, the "Hockeyroos" look strong.
Argentina and the third-ranked Dutch team will be the top pretenders to the title but dogged teams from South Korea, twice silver medallists, and China, the bronze medallists at the 2002 World Cup, will also be keen to grab a podium place.