Aiming to regain the World Cup after 24 years, Australia [ Images ] lock horns with the Netherlands in the first semi-final of the Hero Honda [ Images ] FIH World Cup at the Major Dhyan Chand National stadium in Delhi [ Images ] on Thursday.
Going by the teams' past 4-4 win-loss record in World Cups, there is little to separate the two hockey powerhouses. But a win on Thursday will not only earn one of them a spot in the title clash, but also give them the edge when it boils down to rivalry between the two countries in the tournament.
The in-form Aussies, who finished runners-up in the previous two editions of the tournament -- in Kuala Lumpur (2002) and Monchengladbach, Germany [ Images ] (2006) -- have thus far displayed a ruthless performance after their opening shocker against England [ Images ]. Ric Charlesworth's boys are hoping to carry on the same intensity in the knock-out stage.
"We wanted to be in the semi-finals and we are now there. Who we meet in the semi-finals does not matter. We are a good team and we have no problem in playing any team in the semi-finals," Charlesworth said.
The 2-3 defeat to England in their opening match was a blessing in disguise as it helped the Aussies tie up the loose strings and ensure their relentless march in Pool B. Thereafter, they defeated Olympic [ Images ] silver medallists Spain 2-0, India [ Images ] 5-2, South Africa [ Images ] 12-0 and Pakistan 2-1 to top the pool.
Apart from the one off-day against England, Australia excelled in all departments of the game, be it fitness, speed, ground coverage, man-to-man marking or attack. They possess a lethal forwardline in captain Jamie Dwyer, Glenn Turner and Desmond Abbott, while in Luke Doerner they have an able penalty-corner specialist, who has six goals to his name so far, which puts him on top of the leading scorers' list alongside Dutchman Taeke Taekema.
The match will also be a treat to watch as both Australia, who won the last edition of the Champions Trophy [ Images ], and The Netherlands are known for their one-touch fast-paced hit and run style of play. Added to that, the Dutch will be looking for revenge, having been thrashed at the Champions Trophy.
The Australians are the second-ranked side in the world even though their Olympic and World Cup records (just one gold medal each) do not match with their formidable prowess.
The Netherlands, whose last of three World Cup triumphs came 12 years ago at home in Utrecht in 1998, are very lucky to have progressed to the last four stage, edging past Korea by just a goal. Placed fourth in the world rankings, they will have to lift their performance against Australia.
The Tuen de Nooijer-led side started with a bang with three consecutive wins -- against Argentina, New Zealand [ Images ] and Canada [ Images ] -- but lost their way in the latter half of the pool stages, drawing 1-1 to a young and inexperienced German side and then losing 1-2 to Korea.
Ace drag flicker Taekema seems to have lost his magical touch after registering the first hat-trick of the tournament against Argentina.
Holland coach Michel van den Heuval feels the semi-final will be a totally different encounter as his side has learnt from the mistakes in the last two Pool A matches.
"We are gaining experience from every game, but the semi-final will be a new match. We have to get more spin, more power on to the ball to make it difficult for the Australians," he said.
Veteran captain Nooijer, who is playing his fifth and last World Cup, agreed with his coach.
"Australia are big favourites, but, again, a semi-final is a different match. It will be a tough game against Australia," he said.