Hockey World Cup 2018: Anybody's game now as semifinals get underway

The knockouts will be a chance to see some of the best players of the sport in action.

Australia, looking for a hat-trick of titles, has been playing the kind of free-flowing hockey it is known for.   -  getty images

The tournament past the upsets stage, the minnows gone back after showing the occasional spark of genius that might augur well sometime in future, the challengers quelled and some big guns falling silent on the big stage, the existing world order has been re-established as the Hockey World Cup enters the home stretch here with the semifinals on Saturday.

Three of the four teams remaining in the fray are ranked among the top-four in the world. Only Olympic champion Argentina, struggling to reclaim lost form and battling the ‘fluke shot at history’ remarks since Rio, is out, packed by England which has been as impressive as ever despite not being as dominating as the other three.

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It is a reassertion that, despite the progress made by some of the mid-table teams — including the likes of India and Ireland — there is quite a long way to go before challenging the world powers.

On Saturday, when Australia takes on Netherlands and England plays Belgium, one team would be hoping to make its maiden final while one among the two three-time champions would head back home.

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Free-flowing hockey

Australia, looking for a hat-trick of titles, has been playing the kind of free-flowing hockey it is known for. Going through a transition period in its personnel, both on and off the field, following the Rio Olympics disappointment, the team tried experimenting with its style before reverting to what suits it the best, and that has worked here.

Colin Batch’s boys have been ruthless regardless of the opposition but Netherlands would be the toughest challenge yet for them. The Dutch, after a hard-fought win against India, would be high on confidence but its play in the quarterfinal was a lot more physical and rough than usual.

It was also more erratic and the team can be put under pressure, as highlighted by both Germany and India. Ironically, both are out of the competition now but not before revealing chinks in the Dutch armour and Australia would do well to pounce on them.

Despite its overwhelming of Germany in the quarterfinals and a higher world ranking, Belgium would be the underdog against England. The English, powered by Barry Middleton in the middle and boosted by the rock-solid presence of George Pinner under the bar, have been impressive in their outings so far.

They have made errors and took time to get into the rhythm but have got together like clockwork in the two knockout games so far.

Either way, it would be two exciting games and a chance to see some of the best players in action.

The schedule (semifinals): England vs Belgium (4 pm), Australia vs Holland (6.30 pm).

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