The world’s four highest ranked sides take the biggest stage in world hockey today aiming to move one step closer to Olympic glory at the Riverbank Arena as Australia, Germany, the Netherlands and hosts Great Britain are all within one result of a medal.
First up, world number one meets number two as the Kookaburras play the Germans at 3.30pm. Both endured their own bumps along the road. Australia’s passage looked to be a serene one after huge victories over South Africa and 2008 runners-up Spain, they showed a first hint of vulnerability against Argentina. Having built a 2-0 lead, they were pegged back to draw. Against Britain, that situation was increased to a 3-0 advantage before James Tindall dramatically squared the game at 3-3.
It left them in a tentative position going into a final pool game against Pakistan but, in typical Aussie fashion, they produced a major statement of intent with a 7-0 victory to reaffirm their status. En route, superstar Jamie Dwyer has passed Mark Hager’s national goalscoring record while Russell Ford, Chris Ciriello and Matthew Butturini have also been to the fore in their aggressive, attacking style that has yielded 23 goals from five games.
For European champions Germany, they have yet to scale the full heights but showed glimpses of their potential in a 5-2 win over India while their defensive rigidity was revealed in a 1-0 win over Korea and the 2-1 success against Belgium. Central to those results has been the magnet-like qualities of skipper Max Mueller. He looks set to be able to play despite fears he had fractured a bone in his hand two days ago against New Zealand but he has been passed fit enough to play.
Christopher Zeller has been their forward totem with five goals but his side will need to tighten up after their bizarre 5-5 draw with New Zealand but their character to comeback will lift their confidence.
In the second semi-final at 8pm, hosts Great Britain will play their first semi-final in 24 years in front of an expectant home crowd against a resurgent Dutch squad. For the Netherlands, they are the only side to pick off a perfect five wins from five outings, the highlight being a 3-1 victory over Germany in Teun de Nooijer’s 450thinternational game. Mink van der Weerden has been a revelation from the penalty corner routine while looking secure in defence, chipping in with six goals to be the tournament top scorer to date.
Goals are usually the order of the day when these sides meet with the Dutch winning out 4-3 when they played in last August’s European championships – GB in their English guise. This tournament has once again affirmed Ashley Jackson as a global superstar while captain Barry Middleton has led the side from the forward line. Their route to the semis was a dramatic one, making it through unbeaten but with just two wins to their name.
The three-goal comeback against Australia showed their battling qualities while they were forced to dig in during a controversial late surge from Spain that ultimately secured their passage. Summoning the rhythm that accounted for Argentina and Pakistan is their main priority.
Photograph: Barry Middleton, GB, celebrates making the semi-final, (Great Britain Hockey/Ady Kerry (c))