IT ALL BOILS DOWN TO SPEED AND POWER

GERMANY'S CUP OF JOY... the world champions rejoice during the victory ceremony.-AP

As India and Pakistan realised at Monchengladbach, a team needs much more than graceful stick-work, short passing and individual skill to score goals. Hockey is no more a sport of aesthetics, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

Yet another hockey World Cup was consigned to history. Eventful as expected, the 11th edition at Monchengladbach mirrored new power equations that provided a fascinating vista for the administration as well as for the aficionados. It signalled, once again, the ever-expanding frontiers of excellence and efficiency, elegantly portrayed by players such as Christopher Zeller of Germany, giving competitive hockey a vibrant ethos.

The dimensions demonstrated did not confine to one entity. They were varied, vivacious and vigorous. The Germans symbolised vitality, the Aussies that rare measure of synthesis and systematisation; the Spaniards explored the depth of creativity while the Koreans exhibited what sustained power and pressure tactics can do.

Hockey is no more a sport of aesthetics. It is everything about power, speed, ingenuity and improvisation. The powers from the sub-continent — Pakistan and India — realised that their brand of hockey, the grace of stick-work, short passing and individual skill succeed only to a limited extent. It is the amalgam of all put together in a package of power and speed that ultimately fetch goals.

The drag flick decides the outcome, and no one displayed this truth more significantly than the Dutch ace Taeke Takema when the Netherlands floored India 6-1. His final tally of 11 goals, 10 off penalty corners, makes him special.

More importantly, success at this level rests a lot on temperament and character, manifested superbly by the Germans in the final against Australia. They recovered from a 1-3 deficit to retain the trophy. If Christopher Zeller was outstanding so were the others like Bjorn Emmerling, Timo Wess and Matthias Witthaus.

Jong Hyun Jang excelled in penalty corner conversions for Korea.-AP

The Aussies too displayed good temperament and character. The 1-3 reverse they suffered against Spain in the opening match would have unsettled any team, but Australia fought back, winning five matches in a row before capitulating in the final. The way the team recovered in the semi-final against South Korea was another example of fortitude. Jaime Dwyer's third goal, the decider, as well as Mike McCann's thunder, 17 seconds before the close, were indeed breathtaking.

Creativity was the hallmark of the Spaniards, whose elimination in the semi-final via the tiebreaker came as a big disappointment. Pol Amat, who scored the golden goal for the bronze medal, and Eduard Tubau represented the best of this, supported on the right by David Alagre. Santi Friexa was outstanding with penalty corners.

Brilliant trapping and velocity stood out in the Korean approach though there was a lot of inconsistency. The conquest of the favourite, the Netherlands, in the opening game was superb. The nippy runs by Hyo Sik You and the penalty corner conversions by Jong Hyun Jang provided the capital for the Koreans, whose only poor game was against the Indians though they won 2-1. The goalless draw against the Germans did not do credit to their reputation as also to the home team's.

What sustained England after its unexpected win 3-1 against India was the spirit and self-belief. While Mantells, Richard and Simon excelled in penalty corners, the mid-field was well guarded by Ben Hawes. None should grudge England's fifth place, which came after its 1-0 win against Pakistan.

Two others teams that caught the imagination were New Zealand, which almost made it to the semi-final, and Japan.

New Zealand's showing only confirmed its growing stature in recent years under mid-fielder Ryan Archbald, the consistent penalty corner hitter, Hayden Shaw and Simon Child.

Japan played with a noticeable sense of vigour, which put paid to Argentina's hopes of staying in the cluster 5-8. Finally, Japan finished 9th, a rating it had at the first World Cup in 1971.

Pakistan was lucky to finish sixth. Its presence in the 5-8 cluster came thanks to Japan's win against Argentina. The Pakistanis were unpredictable. Only skipper Saqlain shone throughout. Two goals by Rehan Bhatt, however, were striking.

India's chapter at Monchengladbach was a poignant story of missed opportunities and lost initiatives. Projected as good enough to be in the last four, the squad fumbled from day one.

Unable to hold on to the lead and capitulating to pressures in the final minutes, its showing in the championship can only be described as pathetic. The dramatic 2-3 defeat to Germany with less than a minute and half remaining had a cascading effect. The efficiency level slipped alarmingly against England, South Africa, Korea and the Netherlands. The danger of finishing last loomed large. Finally, the team finished 11th, a rating that does not reflect the true potential of the squad.

At no point in the tournament did all the lines play to the level expected. The deep defence of Dilip Tirkey, Kanwalpreet Singh and Raghunath never rose to the occasion. The team committed too many errors, conceded penalty corners by the dozen, and gave no chance for the frontline to combine and work. A stray move by Shivendra, Tushar or Tejbir brought no credit.

The World Cup signalled, once again, the everexpanding frontiers of excellence and efficiency, elegantly portrayed by players such as Christopher Zeller (above) of Germany, giving competitive hockey a vibrant ethos.-AP

Constant shuffling of the mid-field again contributed to a haphazard attack. Individually, Vinay and Prabhodh worked hard, but there was no noticeable creative effort. So much so, the chief coach Bhaskaran had to take a bold step of posting Viren Resquinha as full-back in the last two matches.

Not only did the Indians slip into the error swamp but invited frequent yellow card suspensions at crucial stages of the match. Kanwalpreet Singh had two against him, while Prabhodh, Shivendra, Viren, and Hariprasad had one each. India gave away two goals to Korea while leading 1-0 when Prabhodh was cooling off at the bench.

Indiscretions, lack of imagination and inability to pace the match in the last quarter cost India immensely in the end. The 11th place can never be a consolation.

In keeping with the times, the FIH sought to induct technological aids — the video umpire — for the competition. And the experiment was very successful.

The 11th World Cup is over. But memories linger.

THE RESULTS

World Cup 2006: September 6-17, 2006, Monchengladbach

Pool A: Australia lost to Spain 1-3, bt Argentina 4-0, bt Japan 3-1, bt New Zealand 7-1, bt Pakistan 3-0; Spain drew Argentina 1-1, drew Pakistan 2-2, bt New Zealand 3-1, bt Japan 4-2; New Zealand bt Argentina 3-0, drew Pakistan 4-4, bt Japan 1-0; Pakistan bt Japan 4-0, lost to Argentina 0-1; Argentina lost to Japan 3-4.

Pool B: Germany bt India 3-2, drew Netherlands 2-2, bt England 2-1, bt South Africa 5-0, drew Korea 0-0; Korea bt Netherlands 3-2, bt England 1-0, drew South Africa 2-2, bt India 2-1; Netherlands bt South Africa 2-0, bt England 4-3, bt India 6-1; England bt India 3-2, bt South Africa 3-1; South Africa drew India 1-1.

Classification matches 5-8: England bt New Zealand 4-3; Pakistan bt Netherlands 3-2; (7-8) Netherlands bt New Zealand 3-0. 5-6: England bt Pakistan 1-0.

Classification matches 9-12: Japan bt South Africa 5-2; Argentina bt India 3-2. 9-10: Japan bt Argentina 2-1. 11-12: India bt South Africa 1-0.

Semi-finals: Australia bt Korea 4-2; Germany bt Spain 2-2 (TB 3-1).

Third place: Spain bt Korea 3-2 (gg). Final: Germany bt Australia 4-3.

Player of the Tournament: Jaime Dwyer (Australia)

Promising Player: Christopher Zeller (Germany)

Best goalkeeper: Ulrich Bubolz Fair Play Trophy: New Zealand.

Final positions: 1. Germany, 2. Australia, 3. Spain, 4. South Korea, 5. England, 6. Pakistan, 7. Netherlands, 8. New Zealand, 9. Japan, 10. Argentina, 11. India, 12. South Africa.