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Olympic hockey has a lot riding on it

July 05, 2012


Pakistan's young brigade will be hoping to provide the perfect swansong for some of veteran stars for whom this will surely be the last Olympic Games. -File photo

LONDON: Australia's men's team may be looking to hold all the sport's major titles by winning gold at the London Olympics but coach Ric Charlesworth was far from content as his team headed to the Games.

He's complained about the pitch that will be used for the tournament and slammed what he believed is an unfair match schedule.

And he insists reigning Olympic champions Germany could well defend their title after beating the Kookaburras in a warm-up competition.

“If I did the odds now, I wouldn't have us as the favourites, I'd probably have Germany,” Charlesworth told the Wall Street Journal.

“At our best, we've got skilful, speedy, flexible players and a way of playing which allows us to get penetration but we're going to be competing against teams that have got antidotes to that.”

In multiple world player of the year Jamie Dwyer, Australia have a potential man of the tournament but Charlesworth is concerned the relatively recently laid blue and pink artificial pitch in the Olympic Park won't have been played in sufficiently before the Games.

“The pitch is an issue,” he said recently.

“The ball bobbles a fair bit. It doesn't reward skill.”

Meanwhile, Australia won an appeal over being handed three early morning starts in their group matches.

Charlesworth was furious when the draw gave his team three 8:30am games, which he said would require players to wake up at 5:00am in a major disruption to their daily tournament routine.

At the same time, Germany avoided the early time slot altogether in the opposite group.

Hockey Australia fired in an official protest and the Federation of International Hockey said it has re-scheduled Australia v Pakistan on August 7 from 8:30am to 10:45am.

South Korea against the Netherlands will be switched to the earlier start.

Once dubbed the ‘kings of hockey’, Pakistan face an uphill task in London and will be seeking inspiration in penalty-corner specialist and captain Sohail Abbas. Abbas, the highest goal-scorer in the history of the game, has said the Olympics will be his “last shot at glory” and will be pushing himself to provide the spark for the ‘Greenshirts’.

New Zealand appear to be timing their bid for Games glory in style after winning the prestigious Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia with a 1-0 victory over Argentina.

The Black Sticks haven't won men's Olympic field hockey gold since 1976 and, although ranked seventh in the world to Australia's first, could pose a threat.

“It is great to have won our first Sultan Azlan Shah Cup,” said New Zealand coach Shane McLeod. “But we still have a fair bit of work to do before the Games start.”

Eight-times champions India return to Olympic Games hockey, having failed to qualify for Beijing four years ago, although, given the last of their gold medals came back in 1980, they are not expected to be on the podium in London.

In the women's tournament, Argentina will hope to crown the brilliant career of seven times world player of the year Luciana Aymar, 'the Maradona of hockey', with a first Olympic gold.

“On the pitch she is magical and extra-terrestrial,” said Argentina coach Carlos Retegui of Aymar.

Defending champions the Netherlands have been impressive in recent warm-up events but Great Britain's women are being tipped to do well in front of their own fans after only narrowly losing the Champions Trophy final to hosts Argentina in Rosario in February.

“We saw them in the Champions Trophy, where they were the best team there, and that is the level we expect we will see in London,” said Hockeyroos coach Adam Commens.

The British men, ranked four in the world, are also medal contenders although it will be asking a lot to match the gold medal won by the 1988 side in Seoul.

Their opening match against Argentina takes place against the backdrop of the 30th anniversary of the war the countries fought over the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Argentina's Fernando Zylberberg caused controversy with a television advertisement that showed him training in the Falklands Islands.

“The video ended with the voiceover: “To compete on English soil, we are training on Argentine soil.”