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 March 8, 2002 | 1530 IST
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Australia's aggressive hockey
too much for Holland

M M Somaya

M M SomayaEurope's hockey supremacy was put to the test by other continents in each of the two World Cup semi-finals in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday. Only Germany rode the challenge, eking out the narrowest of wins -- 3-2 -- against Korea.

Later, defending champions the Netherlands crumbled pathetically, 1-4, to a resurgent Australia. The contrast in playing styles of continents was evident only in the Netherlands versus Australia match, and quite naturally the spills and thrills were reserved for this semi-final.

Ultimately, the open, aggressive hockey of Australia proved too superior for the regimented approach of the Netherlands.

Australia opted for the 2-4-4 system, with Jeremy Hiskins and Jamie Dwyer playing the roving strikers up front. It was their enterprise that prised open the normally impregnable Netherlands defence.

Youngster Jamie Dwyer emphasised the importance of all-round ability by getting everything right. A brace of goals by him capped some splendid off-the-ball movement and even more splendid skills while on the ball.

Australia's tactic to nullify Teun de Nooijer, the hub of the Netherlands team, paid rich dividends and they were able to wrest the initiative for long spells.

The ability of their own mid-fielders to quickly switch into attack gave the strikers adequate support and options during the rapier-like counter attacks.

Brent Livermore, in the centre of mid-field, played a pivotal role as always and it was his strong presence and composure that gave leadership to the Australians.

The goal keeping of Lachlan Dreher was of an extremely high standard, particularly in defending penalty-corners. Never in recent hockey history have we heard of the Netherlands forcing as many as 13 penalty-corners and scoring from just one.

However, it was as much their inept conversions as it was Dreher's goal keeping that kept them off the scoreboard for most of the match.

Poor stopping of the inbound push and wayward efforts by Lomans and Taekama punctuated the Netherlands display. From the land of Litjens, Kruize, Bouvelander and Bowman, this performance was unbelievable.

In contrast, Australia forced only one penalty-corner and instead relied on field goals to get all four goals. The quick overlap by their attacking mid-fielders gave them time and space to execute shots with precision.

It appeared though on many occasions that the Netherlands defenders were caught ball watching. Australia's third goal by Mathew Smith was the peach of the lot.

Receiving a pass near the 25-yard line, Smith entered the circle on the left and after steering clear of two challenges, reverse scooped the ball into the net from a narrow angle. This exquisite effort stood out among the other goals, where thumping drives gave Guus Vogels in goal little chance.

In the earlier semi-final, Korea matched bookmakers' favourite Germany in all respects, even playing the 3-3-3-1 formation just as well. It was a dour German defence and some questionable umpiring that ultimately laid them low.

Amid some appalling calls, Irish umpire Raymond O'Connor disallowed what appeared a clean penalty-corner conversion by Korea for faulty stopping. It could have been the equaliser and could have taken the game into extra-time.

Germany's two goals off normal field play typified the trend these days. Two long hits finding superb deflections into goal. Christoph Bechmann scoring from a right side cross and Matthias Witthaus doing the same from a left side strike.

The goal of this match was, however, the second goal by Korea. A quick bout of passing down the right eventually resulted in Kim Kyung-Seok overlapping from right mid-field to strike home. The quick recognition of the overlap holding the key as much as the sharpness of the finish.

India, sponsored by Castrol, who had run Australia close in their last pool match, registered a very impressive 3-0 win against Spain in a match for minor rankings.

Coach C R Kumar, who has netted three wins in four matches after his elevation from assistant coach, would be eager to end the tournament by finishing with a win and a ninth position.


M M Somaya was a member of the Indian hockey team at the Olympics of 1980, '84 and '88.

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