Australia and Germany will play in the BDO Hockey World Cup final on Sunday after a pair of gripping semi final encounters in Monchengladbach.
The quality of the semi finals matched the stature of the tournament with the final four teams still in contention concentrating their efforts to produce exceptional hockey.
The decider is a dream match-up with the Olympic champions and world number one against the current world champions and home team.
It is also a repeat of the 2002 final where Germany prevailed to claim their first World Cup title. This time however the roles are slightly reversed with a relatively inexperienced German team coming up against an outfit that been an imposing force over the past two years (as opposed to the scenario four years ago).
In the first semi final, Australia were fortunate to survive an impressive Korean challenge before their class eventually prevailed.
The Kookaburras were tentative in the first half and allowed the compact Korean defence to settle into position which prevented flow of play into attack that had been a feature of their play in the preliminary rounds.
In a potential huge blow for the Olympic champions, star striker Jamie Dwyer appeared to suffer a hamstring injury with less than two minutes remaining as he attempted an off-balance shot from the left side of the circle.
Australia coach Barry Dancer said that Dwyer will be assessed in the next 24 hours but the 2004 WorldHockey Player of the Year was visibly upset as he was helped to the interchange bench and is highly unlikely to be fit to participate in the Kookaburras’ biggest match since he scored the Olympic gold medal winning goal two years ago.
Dwyer’s absence will be a major setback for Australia’s World Cup hopes considering fellow striker Grant Schubert was ruled out of the tournament just prior to its start with a knee injury.
The two-goal margin of victory flattered Australia with the final goal scored just seconds from full time.
Korea’s gallant World Cup campaign looked like continuing on its unbeaten path and a surprise appearance in the decider after they took the lead four minutes before half time after Australia had started tentatively.
Dancer said he urged his players to show more courage moving forward and with their passing at half time and it paid dividends with the match tempo quickening in the second 35 minutes.
The pace of play worked in Australia’s favour as they found it easier to penetrate the Korea defence and create scoring chances.
The second semi final between Germany and Spain could not have been more exciting with the home team securing the match only after a penalty shoot out was called to decide the result.
The capacity and raucous crowd willed their team to victory but each time they snuck ahead, Spain responded magnificently in regulation time.
It was disappointing for Spain’s World Cup ambitions to end so feebly with a poor penalty stroke shoot out and without being defeated in regulation time throughout the tournament.
The pressure on both teams throughout the match was intense with Spain having the better of play and opportunities, especially with an advantage in the penalty corners awarded.
Germany coach Bernhard Peters said it was a great night for German hockey and the crowd provided enormous inspiration for his team.
He thought his team was mentally stronger than Spain for the penalty shoot out and that his young team had produced a great effort.
Despite the heavy physical toll on his players from such a draining performance, he was confident they could recover and be ready to face the challenge of Australia on Sunday.
Losing coach Maurits Hendriks said his team’s performance was one of the best he had been involved with and they created enough chances to win the match. He was at a loss to explain what they could have done differently – except improve their set piece play – and at no stage did he feel Spain were losing control of the match.
However when the pressure was applied at its maximum level with the semi final on the line in the shoot out, Germany’s composure was significantly better that Spain’s.
In the day’s classification matches to decide places 5-8, Pakistan inflicted even more pain on the suffering Netherlands supporters with an exciting one-goal win that leaves the Dutch wallowing in the seventh place playoff tomorrow.
After being knocked out of contention by Korea and Germany on Wednesday, the Dutch looked almost disinterested in the first half as Pakistan raced to a two-goal lead at the break and then added another in the first minute of the second half.
Down by three goals, the Netherlands finally started to play with intent and quickly responded with a pair of strikes to draw within sight.
In a frantic finish, Pakistan captain Muhammad Saqlain made two saves on the goal line in the final minute as the Netherlands scrambled to find the equaliser from a penalty corner.
Pakistan’s opponent in the fifth place playoff will be England after they scored a penalty corner after the full time siren to defeat New Zealand.
England trailed by two goals in the first half and then by one in the second before wearing down the Black Sticks with a determined display.
Even a loss tomorrow won’t diminish a successful campaign for England. Ranked 11th entering the tournament, they will finish no lower than sixth in a highly competitive competition.
Tomorrow is reserved for the classification matches for those teams ranked in the bottom four of the tournament. As well as these matches, the fifth and seventh place playoffs will be decided.
The seventh place playoff between New Zealand and the Netherlands is scheduled for 15:00 followed by Pakistan and England’s battle for fifth position at 17:30.
A loss tomorrow for world number two Netherlands will be their worst performance at a World Cup since 1975 in Kuala Lumpur where they placed ninth.
Preceeding these playoffs are the classification matches for positions 9-12. In the first crossover match, South Africa play Japan, followed by Argentina against India.
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