Harpal Singh Bedi/ Bhubaneswar
As three-time champion Australia takes on the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the 14th Hockey World Cup at Kalinga Stadium on Saturday the two teams must be reliving the final of 2014 edition of the cup-.
For Australia the flash back to 2014 is just exhilarating while for the Dutch it is a nightmare, of losing the title contest 1-6 before the home crowd, which has been haunting them for last four years.
Now as the Australians will play their 11th successive semi-finals, they are just two matches away from creating yet another hockey history by becoming the only team to win hat-trick of titles .
World no. 1 Australia is second only to four-time champions Pakistan, having won the world title thrice before, which includes back-to-back gold medals in the last two editions of the tournament in 2010 and 2014.
However even the Australians recognize that it is easier said than done as they are aware that the world no.4 Netherlands are thirsting for a revenge for the humiliation they suffered four years ago.
But in the four years since they met in the final of 2014, much had changed. Jamie Dwyer, Mark Knowles and Glenn Turner have retired but the Australians have rebuilt brilliantly since the disappointment of Rio under Colin Batch and have returned to the top of the world rankings.
On the other hand, apart from the revenge, the Dutch, who have won the title thrice, the last time being in 1998, are also desperate to break their 20-year-old jinx.
Netherlands are high on confidence after their hard-fought 2-1 win over India in the quarterfinals.
Going by form and world ranking, it is expected to be an edge of thriller contest between the two teams, who prefer to play totally contrasting style of hockey.
While attacking hockey is the back bone of Australia, the Dutch mostly prefer to play waiting game with a compact defence and relying more on counters to surprise their opponents.
There is hardly anything to differentiate between the two sides going by recent head-to-head record. Since 2013, Australia and Netherlands have played each other 11 times with the Aussies winning five and losing four while two ended in draws.
Australia striker Daniel Beale admitted that it would be a tough, exciting battle on Saturday for a place in Sunday’s summit clash.
“We are into the crucial stage of the tournament. We got to watch last night’s match between Holland and India. So, we have learnt a lot from that. We are expecting a very tough match tomorrow,” he told media persons.
“We have very proud history. There is no special formula. We work hard, we train hard. We are fiercely competitive. Every tournament we go we go to win.”
Beale, however, said what happened four years ago will hardly have any impact in Saturday’s must-win game. “In 2014 Australia had great success in the final but that was a long time ago and this group has changed immensely. we are looking to create a bit of history,”
Coach Colin Batch also played down 2014 win saying” On Saturday it will be a new match, Boys are looking ahead, no looking back.” adding that “We will play the game as we have been doing, we are focused
“Holland are a very tough team. They have quality players. Billy (Bakker), (Robert) Kemperman, (Valentin) Verga. We will do our homework and try to nullify them.”
The Dutch, on the other hand, are unquestionably much tougher under Max Caldas now than they were four years ago.
Caldas was cautious about his team’s chances “We have forgotten 2014, we start afresh against the Aussies. We do fancy our chances” he said
The Australians started with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Ireland in their opener, Australia stepped on the gas and registered convincing wins over England (3-0), China (11-0) and France (3-0).
The Dutch, on the other hand, mauled Malaysia 7-0 before losing 1-4 to Germany. They defeated Pakistan 5-1 in their last pool match before beating Canada 5-0 in the cross-overs and eking out a close 2-1 win over India in the quarterfinals.
In the second semi-final, Olympic silver medallist Belgium too would be looking to create history by making their maiden World Cup final appearance when they take on England in the first semi-final earlier in the day. England has played in the final only once 32 years ago (1986) and finished runners up to Australia.