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.

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