NETHERLANDS LOOKS FORMIDABLE

BERNHARD PETERS, the German coach, has done a world of good for his team.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Every component that goes to make a champion team is INGRAINED in the Dutch. Their recent performances are awesome, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

Venturing to predict the destination of the World Cup from Monchengladbach, in Germany, is like stepping on a land-mine. Yet one can't refrain from searching for the pointers.

Unlike in Kuala Lumpur, the competition now is confined to 12 countries; four from Europe (Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, England), four from Asia (India, Korea, Pakistan, Japan), two from Ocenaia (Australia, New Zealand) and one each from Africa (South Africa) and America (Argentina).

The bulk of the qualifiers are from Europe and Asia who have won the Cup nine times — Pakistan 4, the Netherlands 3, India and Germany one each.

EUROPE

THE DUTCH STAR Teun di Nooijer (No. 14) is a top-notch striker.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Every component that goes to make a champion team is ingrained in the Dutch. Their recent performances are awesome. Under Roelant Oltmans, who returned to take the reins last year, the Netherlands looks the best bet.

To identify another team as proficient is difficult. Netherlands's strength is mirrored by the elegance of Teun di Nooijer, arguably the best forward on the scene. His combination with Ronald Brouwer and Roderick Weusthof is lethal. With the indomitable Jerome Delmee as the pivot, Taeke Takema in defence and Guus Vogles under the bar, the Dutch team has the right recipe for a Dutch delight. The last Cup win was in 1998.

The holder, Germany, has its backers. Its plus point is the ingenuity of coach Bernhard Peters, who has assiduously built up a powerful combination.

The silver medal at Terrassa after the fourth place in the last edition in Chennai underlines this. Matthias Witthaus and Christopher Zeller form the backbone.

The trophy triumph at the European Championship in Leipzig advertised the potential of Spain under the Dutch coach, Maurits Hendriks. Imagine a team finishing at 11 in the placings in 2002 emerging as the contender now.

IGNACE TIRKEY'S COMEBACK is an added strength to the Indian team.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Hendriks has succeeded remarkably in knitting a combination, in which the striking competence of Eduard Tabau and Pol Amat amalgamates beautifully with the penalty corner specialist Santi Freixa.

England makes to the championship as a qualifier. The team's best moment was the runner up place in 1986. The quality of England's showing both in the Commonwealth Games as well as in the qualifier makes it a team to watch. The Mantell brothers, Richard and Simon, are the force to reckon with.

ASIA

Three of the four teams have found their slots from the qualifier. India made the grade as the Asia Cup winner in 2003. Pakistan has the best record with four victories. The last was in 1994 at Sydney.

Of late there have been too many convulsions raising apprehensions of Pakistan finding a spot in the final 12. It could manage only a fourth place.

The deplorable showing in the Champions Trophy — fifth in two editions — and the devastating 2-9 reverse against the Dutch at Terrassa forced a change of coach, Shahnaz coming in for Asif Bajwa. The silver lining was the Rabobank victory last year.

The desperation is best exemplified by the recall of penalty corner specialist Sohail Abbas. How successful can he be after a long lay off remains to be seen. Individually, players like Rehan Bhatt, Shakeel Abbasi and midfielder Muhammad Saqlain can contribute significantly.

Chief coach V. Baskaran has succeeded in infusing a bit of self-confidence to the diffident Indian team. The podium finish at the Azlan Shah competition was a booster. But that may not be insufficient to lift the team in a World Cup. It is a pity that penalty flicker Sandeep Singh should be the victim of a freak gun shot incident before departure.

Team India is far more balanced than any in the recent years. The midfield is solid.

Ignace Tirkey's comeback is an added strength. The wing backs Vinay and Prabodh Tirkey, the frontline trio of Shivendra, Tushar and Hariprasad project the incandescence of youth while Dilip Tirkey, Viren Resquinha and Gagan Ajit Singh portray the elements of maturity and experience.

Runner-up at the qualifier, Korea's slump appears inexplicable. A fifth place at the Azlan Shah tournament raised many an eyebrow. Korea was a semi-finalist in 2002. But the surprise packet is Japan.

Fifth after beating France 2-1 to clinch the last place at Changzhou, Japan poses a new threat. Penalty hitters Yamabori and Katayama may give goalkeepers a harrowing time.

OCEANIA

Olympic champion and winner of the World Cup in 1986, Australia enters the fray after a poor Champions Trophy and a drubbing suffered against the Netherlands in the final of Azlan Shah. Coach Barry Dancer is optimistic that such aberrations should not cause too much of a worry.

Australia is fairly well trained and motivated under the leadership of midfielder Brent Livermore. The return of Troy Elder — he was the player of the tournament in 2002 — from a year's break after a brush with authority has bolstered the midfield strength further. Jaime Dwyer, Nathan Eglington, Mike McCann and Grant Schubert constitute the striking force along with penalty corner striker Luke Doerner.

The Kiwis are the most improved lot in the last two years. Coach Kevin Towns deserves the accolades for the effort put in to composing a well-knit, technically efficient and tactically admirable set of players headed by the midfielder Ryan Archbald.

New Zealand's victory in the qualifier surprised none as the team thundered past the opposition. Simon Childs and Phil Burrows are expected to figure high in the list in this World Cup.

AMERICA AND AFRICA

No combination represents unpredictability of sport as much as Argentina. Winner of the Pan-American Games, Argentina can upset any outfit. Sixth in the last edition, the Argentines exude an enviable style, which enhances the beauty of power play.

The brain behind the team is the veteran Jorge Lombi, but its youngsters Mario Alamada and Lucas Vila should be in the forefront.

Playing its third World Cup after debut in 1994, South Africa has to make a great effort to make a mark at this level.