Germany's dream comes true

S. THYAGARAJAN

MEMORABLE in many ways, the 10th hockey World Cup passed beyond the blue rim of Bukit Jalil and dissolved into history on March 9, leaving only memories and a mood of nostalgia. Predictably, it was a delight for the chroniclers and compilers, with 72 matches being played in a space of 14 days in a format of 16 that is unlikely to be repeated.

Jubilant members of the German team with the World Cup.-VINO JOHN

As in any world level sport, reputations were built and ruined, power alignments altered, and the incredible twists and turns kept everyone on the edge. Overall, the standard was static, even stereotyped, save for an occasional brilliance that Pakistan injected or when Argentina conjured up visions of lacing grace with power against the cold, calculated and calibrated system of the Europeans, so consciously designed by the coaches of Germany, Holland and Spain. But in the end, two of the three podium placings went to the European powers, Germany, which took the trophy for the first time, and Holland, which came here as the defending champion, getting the bronze, pipping Korea through a golden goal.

It was dream come true for Germany. The maiden triumph was achieved after a tremendous contest with Australia, which at one point of time threatened to rip apart every combination, including Germany. Clearly the favourite after a fantastic record, Germany lived up to the assessment, despite a hiccup or two on the way. The loss against Spain dented its image badly as did the struggle against Pakistan before it could ensure itself a place in the semi-final where, too, it was stretched by Korea till Matthias Witthaus produced that stunning match-winner.

Elated, and understandably so, Germany was emotionally overwhelmed when the final hooter went off amidst the din of the huge crowd present for the final. Impeccable in defence, incisive in attack and innovative according to situations, Germany struck as the most balanced combination. Everything was so well organised that it was a pleasure watching the German machine on the move. Experience and efficiency mingled to perfection in the squad where each player knew what was expected of him.

Germany's Oliver Domke (right) celebrates with teammate Sascha Reinelt after scoring the match-winner in the final against Australia.-VINO JOHN

Oliver Domke, Bjorn Michel and Sascha Reinelt were a delight to behold when on the run, supported from the mid-field by Christian Mayerhofer and Bjorn Emmerling. But it was the gangling Florian Kunz who caught the attention, not only by his physical stature but also from the manner in which he converted penalty corners. When he was not getting the timing right, he ordered his girl friend back home to fly his "lucky" stick for the event. Things began to fall in place after that. Kunz actually made history by becoming the first German captain to win the World Cup.

A sequence of eight successive wins, including the conquest of the defending champion in the semi-final by a whopping 4-1 margin, gave Australia an aura of invincibility till it slipped in the final hurdle. Projecting a synthesis of the best of the European power in sprinting and Asian style in stickwork, Australia was remarkably endowed for the job on hand. Elegant, effective and aesthetic, it ran through the opposition in the league part, even granting the fact that it was clubbed in the easy pool.

With the experienced mid-field of Brent Livermore, Paul Gudoin and Adam Commens supporting the frontline, dominated by Jaime Dwyer, Troy Elder, declared as the Player of the Championship, and Craig Victory, Australia was never at a loss to create openings. It was unfortunate it tripped at the last hurdle.

The Netherlands' Jaap Derk Buma (extreme left) has just scored the golden goal against Korea in the match for the third place.-VINO JOHN

The Netherlands should consider its bronze a bonanza. From day one, it looked vulnerable despite having some of the finest ball players in the squad. Teun de Nooijer and Remco van Wijk were in the classical mould, but somehow the team built up its aura around the rangy Bram Lomans as a specialist penalty corner hitter. He did not come off as well as expected. Comparatively speaking, the mid-field where Jereon Delmee held fort as skipper, was ineffective. Much was made out of Taekema as a penalty corner specialist and the mid-fielder Erik Jazet, but neither lived up to the emphasis placed on them. At no point did the team look like the defending champion and in the end, it did not end up in that spot again.

Germany's Michael Green takes the ball past Korea's Kyung Seok Kim in the first semifinal.-VINO JOHN

Playing only its third World Cup and finishing eight and seven in the previous two editions, Korea almost surged into the final. Haphazard initially - it even struggled to win over Cuba on the opening day - Korea improved match by match and hit the peak when it came face to face with Germany in the semi-final. A defeat against England almost pushed the team out of the reckoning. Unusually inconsistent, Korea won its matches mainly through its fighting qualities than pure skill. Yeo Woon Kon was its main striker, a role which was not performed well by the more renowned Song Tae Seung.

Pakistan might have lacked the streak of consistency but, when it mattered, the team played like a champion. It was unfortunate that it missed the berth to the semi-final, losing that needle match to Germany. It no doubt proved controversial with the Pakistan Manager, Brig. Khalid Khokar, accusing the umpires as biased, but the players showed the vigour and vitality to turn the tables against Argentina from a hopeless position to win 5-3 and take the fifth place for a spot in the Champions Trophy. It must be noted here that Pakistan lost 1-2 to Argentina in the pool game.

The Netherlands' Marten Eikelboom trips following a tackle by Australian captain Paul Gaudoin (No. 10) in the semifinals.-VINO JOHN

If Sohail starred in every match with his lethal hits from penalty corners, it was the efficiency of the seasoned Shahbaz Ahmed that kept the Pakistani attack on an even keel. Not only was he the master of creating openings, but he inspired everyone. He set the example too, and the way he scored the goal against Malaysia in the classification match revealed the imprint of Shahbaz in his heyday. Nadeem Mohammad, Sarwar and the young Kaushif Jawaad did well in the frontline.

Spirit was what sustained a team like Argentina. Few combinations would have had the mental strength and resilience to recover from two successive defeats - 1-5 against Germany and 1-2 against the Netherlands. But Argentina clawed back to win the next five in a row to stake a claim for the semi-final berth which it missed by a solitary point to the Netherlands. The trump card, understandably, was Jorge Lombi, who scored more field goals than from penalty corners he is renowned for and had a tally of 10 in the end, sharing the top spot with Pakistan's Sohail Abbas. Mario Almada and Vila Rodrigo were outstanding in the flanks. Mention also has to be made of the second goal-keeper Mariano Chao, who replaced the captain, Pablo Moreira after the initial matches. Argentina fought ferociously against Pakistan but surrendered the initiative in the final minutes of the match for the fifth and sixth places.

Pakistan's Shahbaz Ahmed weaving his way past Belgium's Thomas Vanddenbalck.-VINO JOHN

England failed in its bid for a place in the top six, which it secured at Utrecht in 1998. A shock defeat against Japan was a cruel blow even though the team made up for the reverse, beating Korea by a clear two goals to nil. England was never breathtaking by any stretch of imagination but was solid in defence, with Jon Wyatt and goal-keeper Simon Mason being prominent. Danny Hall and Dave Mathews, the latter in penalty corners, were among the main scorers. That England was disappointed for not making it to Cologne for the Champions Trophy goes without saying.

For Malaysia, the eighth spot was the best achieved after the 1975 semi-final. At one point in the championship there were definite signs of Malaysia stepping into the semi-final despite losing the opening game 0-3 to Australia. Victories against India and England did enhance the chances but the draw with Poland in the last match somewhat dampened its spirits. Coached by the German stalwart, Paul Lissek, and with extraordinary support from the large turnout, Malaysia played an entertaining brand of hockey, a combination of long hits and swift dribbles. It was in converting penalty corners that the variations were visible. The gangling Kuhen Shanmuganathan was always in focus, while Chua Boon Huat and Chairl Anwar displayed admirable sense of opportunism.

Argentina's Matias Parades (No. 17) is on cloud nine after scoring the winning goal against Pakistan in the league phase. Pakistan took sweet revenge as it turned the tables on Argentina in the match for the fifth place.-VINO JOHN

The ninth place for New Zealand was a reward for its persistence. It was really lucky to overcome Japan in the classification, but then shocked the Indians with two second half penalty corner goals. It must be conceded that the Kiwis never gave up the fight and always were on the look out for openings. Skipper Simon Towns led from the front, prompting the attack with neat passes giving enough room to David Kasoof. Ryan Archbald and Philip Burrows were good in penalty corner exercises.

There was precious little for India to remember from the World Cup, except the extraordinary development leading to the exit of the coach, Cedric D'Souza. No team among the 16 came up with so much hope and ended as a source of embarrassment to the fans. It may take volumes to analyse why a team with such training and support from every section should flop in the way it did. That the team possessed skills was obvious, but it was unable to translate them into an effective force.

England's Danny Hall (middle), who scored the first two goals against India gets a warm hug from his teammates.-VINO JOHN

Two things would haunt India for long. One was Jugraj's penalty corner push hitting the cross bar in the early minutes against South Korea and the other was Baljit Dhillon's hurriedly taken penalty flick hitting the goal-keeper against Malaysia when India had recovered from a 0-3 deficit to 2-3. Positively viewed, India lost matches by very narrow margins, including against the Aussies, and showed the proficiency to fight back. But critics will harp on, and rightly so, on the simple errors, in the early stages. Poor goal-keeping by Jude Menezes let the team down badly, and before Devesh Chauhan could pick up the threads, the battle was lost.

Lacking in consistency and cohesion for the major part, India banked too much on veterans Dhanraj Pillay and Baljit Singh Dhillon. It was unfortunate that the latter was in poor form. Youngsters, Deepak Thakur, Prabhjot Singh, Arjun Halappa and Bipin Fernandez did nothing to match their junior World Cup showing, making many wonder whether these players were over-rated. Only Ignace Tirkey among the youth brigade performed with some credit.

Malaysia's Madzli Ikmar is ecstatic after scoring against England. Malaysia which beat England in the league phase, lost to the same team in the match for the seventh place.-VINO JOHN

In the midfield, Thirumal was the only player with a trace of consistency and the same can be said of Dilip Tirkey in deep defence. India showed shades of excellence in the contest against Australia and then against the demoralised Spain. These two matches gave India a chance to top the 9-12 group, but the end was otherwise as the Kiwis pricked the bubble.

The Indians did not live up to expectations and started their campaign with a morale-shattering draw against lowly Japan. India was in arrears for most part before Deepak Thakur got this equaliser beating Japan goalkeeper Jun Takahashi. India's Dhanraj Pillay and Japan's Atsushi Takehara look on.

South Africa produced a remarkable performance against Belgium recovering 0-3 to win 5-4 through a golden goal which gave Justin King a hat-trick. But South Africa had just one victory over Belgium in the league and hardly lived up to the assessment which was based on the calibre of the team's top stars, Greg Nicol, Mike Cullen and Justin King. Winless in seven pool matches, Belgium prevailed over the weak Poland to take a higher placing. But Poland was handicapped by the absence of three of its players who stayed away owing to a financial disagreement with the national federation. Minus enthusiasm, Cuba had nothing to show, save for a few individual runs by Rodriguez Herendez, apart from shocking the famed Koreans by two goals in the early part of the opening match and threatening to take the tie away from the Malaysians.

The Kiwi coach Kevin Towns (right) cannot hide his joy as he greets his wards after New Zealand defeated India for the ninth place.

The quality of supervision came under sharp attack. Managers and coaches did agree that umpires too are human and prone to errors but a few frankly charged the umpires with being anything but impartial. Some rulings were appalling, and were viewed as consciously supporting the other side. Pakistan, Korea, Japan, and even India, had genuine complaints, leading to open debate whether the Asians were being consciously targeted. But that seemed an emotional over-reaction.

Both against Germany and Argentina, Pakistan suffered a few incomprehensible rulings. In fact, Pakistan lodged a protest that was thrown out on a technical flaw. In the match against Argentina, the Dutch umpire, Peter Elders, was so confused that he ruled a penalty corner first, changed it to a penalty stroke and after consulting his colleague, Han Sin Joo of Korea, awarded the free hit to Argentina. Raymond O'Connor of Ireland displeased the Koreans with a few decisions that went very much in favour of the Germans in the semi-final.

The tournament top-scorers - Pakistan's Sohail Abbas (left) and Jorge Lombi of Argentina - with 10 goals each.

Picking holes in umpiring may be easy but the FIH has to admit that the quality is deteriorating, and this was clear as a crystal in the World Cup. This is one area the FIH should pay more attention to and get the possible talent. It also defies logic to see umpires from Denmark, Ireland and Portugal getting precedence over the Asians who see more hockey played in their countries.

Minus the bungling in marketing of tickets, the administration and conduct of the World Cup by the Malaysian HF, under the supervision and guidance of the President, Sultan Azlan Shah, and his trusted lieutenants, Tan Sri Alagendra and S. Satgunam, could not have been more perfect. Aberrations here and there surfaced no doubt but they were too minor to be pointed out and exaggerated. Fittingly enough, the FIH awarded the Gold Medal to Satgunam for his contribution towards the success of the World Cup.

PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT: A surprise choice

WHEN high profile stars such as Florian Kunz, Oliver Domke, Bram Lomans, Sohail Abbas, Jorge Lombi and Teun de Nooijer were being tipped to end the World Cup as the leader, the choice of Troy Elder of Australia as the Player of the Tournament came as a surprise to many. But the composition of the Aussie squad for the World Cup was such that no single player commanded more attention than the others. In effect, there were no icons because everyone was as good as the next. The Aussies showed that hockey was a team game where individual skills complement team work and not the other way round.

Troy Elder has every reason to remember the World Cup at Kuala Lumpur as one more peak in his splendid career. For, this unobtrusive mid-fielder and a brilliant striker gave the rival defence, particularly the goal-keepers, a harrowing time throughout the championship. True, he aggregated only five goals when Sohail Abbas and Jorge Lombi hit 10 each; what probably gained the votes for Troy were the quality of his performance, consistency and competence combined with charm. He generated tremendous power in penalty corner shots, and no one will dispute that. Germany's goal-keeper Clemens Arnold will endorse it since he faced the lethal shot from Troy Elder who put the Aussies ahead in the final, raising visions of a repeat trophy triumph after 1986. That the Aussies missed the cup by a whisker on March 9 is another part of the story.

Troy Elder brings into play a refreshing approach, easy, elegant and effective in his interceptions and fluent sallies down the line. His forte is the deceptive trapping and finish in penalty corners from every conceivable angle. To say he was the sheetanchor of the Aussie squad is no exaggeration.

Troy is the best example of the efficacy of the Development Squads, which the Aussies specialise in giving the youth a forum to hone their natural skills. Born on October 15, 1977, Troy Elder caught the attention of the National selectors with a delightful performance for Queensland Blades. What impressed the talent scouts was his stickwork and ability to score goals.

Nicknamed "Woody", Troy Elder shot into limelight as a player with the National junior squad, that won the World Cup at Milton Keynes in 1997 against India. He got into the senior squad in 1998 at the Champions Trophy in Lahore where Australia won a bronze. He was part of the winning team in the next year's Champions Trophy at Brisbane. Since then, he has played two more Champions Trophy events at Amstelveen in 2000 and at Rotterdam in 2001. A bronze medal in the Sydney Olympiad remained the high point of his career till the start of this World Cup.

With 70 international caps and 38 goals, Troy Elder now is reckoned as a seasoned star. A plumber by profession he is fond of surfing and fishing. Kuala Lumpur gave this enthusiastic warrior a silver medal to sport. But that he yearns for a gold goes without saying. Will Australia realise the dream of an Olympic gold in Athens in 2004? Will Troy Elder be part of that golden moment? Well, only time can tell.