It’s about perfection and professionalism

Australia’s all-win record in the tournament with a tally of 30 goals and an impressive average of 4-plus goals per match was simply staggering. By S. Thyagarajan.

Another edition of the World Cup passed beyond the rim of history recently, leaving in its wake a cascade of memories and moments and a myriad of emotions. The two-week hockey carnival in The Hague was remarkable for the back-to-back triumph of Australia.

By winning its third World Cup — the first was in 1986 — Australia underscored, once again, its perfection, professionalism and systematisation, preserved over the years by such stalwart coaches as Richard Aggiss, Frank Murray and the inimitable Ric Charlesworth, who had also piloted the squad to victory in the 2010 edition in New Delhi.

Nothing exemplifies the Aussie sweep better than the team’s seven out of seven victory sequence with a tally of 30 goals and an impressive average of 4-plus goals per match. From the start to the finish, the Aussies never let their guard down even for a moment. And in the final, they registered a tennis-like score — 6-1 — against the Netherlands.

Jamie Dwyer, the Australian skipper, summed up the effort of his team with a touch of eloquence. “We played really great hockey throughout the tournament, it’s the best hockey I think we have ever played. The game is getting faster and attractive, and the Dutch played a really good game, but thankfully we got the better of them,” he said.

A true hero of Australia, scoring the team’s sixth goal in a classic effort to cap his 321st international match, Dwyer proved emphatically that he is a living legend. The Aussies were an amalgam of experience, enterprise and enthusiasm. Mark Knowles, Kieran Govers and Glenn Turner, along with the lethal penalty corner striker Chris Ciriello, played heroic roles.

Barring the Aussies, none of the other teams seemed dominant. Even seasoned teams such as Germany and the Netherlands tumbled surprisingly, so did Belgium and England.

The surprise package, however, was Argentina, who conquered the former champion, Germany, and went on to the podium for the bronze medal. The architect of Argentina’s success was its penalty corner specialist Gonzalo Peillat, who finished with a tally of 10 goals.

While the minor shift in the power balance signals a welcome relief, with only one European country — the Netherlands — figuring on the podium, there is alarming cause for concern with regard to the performances of the Asian countries. With the four-time winner, Pakistan, not even making the grade, a lot was expected of India, South Korea and Malaysia. That they managed to fill up the places between 9 and 12 speaks for the emerging vacuum.

For all the preparations and the backup it received, India’s ninth-place finish was truly disappointing. More so for the manner in which the team tumbled to defeats after being in a position of strength in the opening two games, against Belgium (2-3) and England (1-2). The last minute goals that turned the tables on India caused enormous amount of anguish to its supporters.

Terry Walsh, the Indian team’s Aussie coach, was probably right when he said that the team was closing the gap that existed between it and the European outfits. In The Hague, it was a case of so near, yet so far.

To state that India was unlucky will be an incorrect assessment. There was no trace of perfect rhythm in the team. Specks of brilliant play contributed nothing at the end of the day. Lack of consistency was conspicuous. The team relied heavily on the energy, enterprise and efficiency of its goalkeeper Sreejesh and Sardar Singh, who worked tirelessly and showed indomitable will in the mid-field.

Sreejesh was undoubtedly India’s anchor. Adept, athletic and supremely confident, he was a tower of strength almost throughout. Equally praiseworthy was Sardar whose ball control and passing were outstanding. However, the frontline hardly made any capital out of their efforts.

Flashy runs by Akashdeep and Mandeep made little impression. Sunil and Walmiki were anything but effective. It is a wonder how they made the grade at all. The deep defenders, Raghunath and Rupinder Pal Singh, were innocuous, especially when it came to conversion of penalty corners.

Kothajit, Sana and Birendra Lakra caught the eye now and then, but the mid-field, minus Sardar Singh, was out of tune to match the pace of the rival outfits.

It was incredible to observe South Korea fade out of the competition with a solitary point against South Africa. It ended without a single victory in six matches. Astonishing too was Malaysia’s pathetic campaign.

On the distaff side, the competition was eventful. The Dutch regained the trophy thanks to the superlative show by veteran Maartje Paumen. The defending champion, Argentina, was pushed to the third spot after its defeat in the semi-finals against the Netherlands.

Here again, the Asian teams came a cropper with only China finishing among the top six.

As competitive hockey is all set to transform into a new four-quarter-format from September, every country will have a fresh start. How much Asia will profit from this is a million dollar question.