All eyes on Kookaburras
Perhaps no team in the group stage is expected to have as smooth sailing as twotime champion Australia. Grouped with China, England and Ireland, the Olympic, World Cup and Champions Trophy winner will doubtless have an easy way to the quarterfinals. Looking to end the year on a high after triumphs in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, the Commonwealth Games and the Champions Trophy, the group matches for Australia will be a great opportunity to experiment with players and finetune its strategies for bigger and better opponents.
But whether any of the other three teams will be able to make it past the crossovers — the eight teams finishing second and third in their groups will play each other for four quarterfinal spots — is difficult to predict.
England — whose best World Cup performance has been a secondplace finish way back in 19■6 in London, losing to Australia in the final — will, in all likelihood, end up second in the group, taking on the thirdplaced team from Pool D for a place in the last eight. Ireland, if it finishes third in the group, will take on the secondplaced team from Group D. This is only the third time the country is playing the World Cup, but its last appearance came way back in 1990, when it finished 12th. It had an identical finish in its first appearance in 197■.
But this is not to say that China, which is making its World Cup debut, does not have a chance; it is just the least likely to advance. China’s eighth place at the World League Semifinals in London last year, which meant qualification for Bhubaneswar, also meant heartbreak for South Korea, the fourtime Asia Cup champion that failed to make the cut for the World Cup. For China, which has taken part in the Asian Champions Trophy, the Asia Cup, the Asian Games and the Olympics in hockey, this will be another major chapter in its journey.
Experience galore: Having six players with more than 100 international appearances each, Australia is well and truly equipped to retain its crown.