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Mouth-watering men's hockey quarter-final

14 August 2016

HOCKEY: Australian men’s hockey captain Mark Knowles has called it “mouth-watering.”

Hat-trick hero Glenn Turner labelled it “exciting” and a “challenge.”

On Sunday evening (Monday morning AEST), Australia’s World Champion men’s hockey team will come face-to-face with one of their closest rivals, the Netherlands.

At stake, a shot at the medals at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

“It’s going to be a brilliant hockey clash,” declared Knowles.

“These are the best two teams in the world for the last four years. We played in the World Cup final. We’ve played in numerous big tournaments.

“European champions versus Oceania champions.

“We expect a real grind. Their quality is in their individual skills. They’re very thorough on their execution of their penalty corners, so we need to be really sharp in our defensive circle.

“But we also know that we play at a very high tempo and we can hurt teams with that. The Dutch will be ready for that. They know that it’s coming.

“We know that we’re going to provide it, so it’s going to be a clash of a ball possession team against a really run-and-gun high intensity, relentless pressure team.”

The 2014 World Cup final that Knowles refers to went the way of the Aussies. Emphatically!

From a goal down in the orange-filled cauldron of Den Haag stadium, Australia ran riot, scoring six times. Chris Ciriello netted a hat-trick. Turner, Kieran Govers and Jamie Dwyer one each. It is a result that will live long in the memory of both sides for very different reasons.

Indeed, Australia has had the edge since the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where the pair were kept apart. The Netherlands beat Great Britain in the semi-final before missing out on gold to Germany; Australia went down to the Germans in the semi, before dusting themselves off to beat the hosts to bronze.

In their nine meetings since, Australia has won six. The Netherlands, two.

But this is the Olympic Games. World hockey has never been more competitive and these are two exceptionally even sides. They are ranked first [Australia] and second [Netherlands] in the world.

In their 12 previous meetings at the Olympic Games, Australia has won five, the Netherlands five, and they have shared two draws.

In the pool phase, the Dutch went down 2-1 to reigning Olympic champs, Germany, and drew with Argentina, 3-3. Australia, meanwhile, stumbled to 1-0 defeats to Belgium and Spain.

These are two sides that will need to up their game if they want a shot at the medals.

For the loser – and there must be one – it will mean their lowest Olympic finish in more than 30 years. The last time the Netherlands finished outside the top four was in Los Angeles, in 1984, when they finished sixth. Australia last missed out on the medal matches in 1972 in Munich, 44 years ago (Australia did not enter the Olympic hockey competition in Moscow in 1980 because of the boycott).

The winner will know that whatever happens, they will shoot for silverware. A semi-final followed by either the bronze or gold medal match.

“We probably thought it would happen [meeting the Netherlands] but maybe not this early,” said Turner.

“But with three games to go you’ve got to win them all to get that gold medal and we’re really looking forward to the challenge. We love playing the Olympic Games.”

World hockey has never been more competitive. The business end of the Olympic Games has begun.

The Australian men's hockey team take on the Netherlands on Sunday August 14 at 6pm (7am Monday August 15 AEST).

Lawrence West

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