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Preview: World Cup [November 2002] (9/9/2003)
Australia has a tough task on hand

Can Korea redeem themselves?

An exciting hockey carnival await the hockey fans at Perth. World's top sixteen teams will sweat it for the crown in the 10th Women's World Cup starting from 24th of this month at the Cutin University grounds. The final is slated to be held on 8th December. While the world would watch the girls' gritty game on the field, host of officials cutting across the continents will also play their game out in board rooms. The FIH's bi-annual Congress too will be held at Perth which include election to the select posts in its agenda and many big shots including the Indian Hockey Federation president, KPS Gill are in the fray.

Top six teams of the last year's World Cup Qualifiers - England, Russia, Ukraine, Japan, Ireland, Scotland - and USA, which had won a play-off against India at Cannock, will be joined by nine champions sides, which make up of a 16-team field. It's indeed unfortunate the skilful Indian side, winners of the Commonwealth Games, is not here having lost the play off to the USA.

The hosts Australia will be cynosure of all eyes. Not just for their off track body suits - we don't know what new pattern will be in store now - but for their unenviable position of being the defending champions. Charlesworth's angles denied Holland a double at Utrecht but much water had flowed down the bridges since then. Charlesworth's peer David Bell, now in charge of the team, shoulders a great responsibility to live upto the home expectations. However, the results in the past two years do not inspire much confidence in the side. Starting from Korea Telecom Cup down to Macau Champions Trophy, his girls failed to hurdle past the last obstacle. The hosts have to pull up their socks to keep their prestige in tact.

Australia is in Group B along with Asian Games bronze medallists Japan, Barcelona Olympics surprise pack Spain, Amien's Qualifier winners England, former giants Netherlands, up and coming South Africa and Dublin World Cup bronze medallists United States. Guessing the top two from this rather easy looking pool compared to the other as to who will reach the semis is hazardous. Women's hockey has often proved in the past that they would not fall in line with the predictions except those six years extraordinary reign of Charlesworth. Still keeping form and history in mind, I guess any two teams from among Australia, Netherlands and England will figure in the semi-finals.

England under the Australian coach Tricia Herberle have made tremendous stride in the last two years, reaching the finals of the three major tournaments - World Cup Qualifier, Champions Challenge Cup and Commonwealth Games - and winning the first two. However, the side has to show exceptional grit here to reach the semis. Despite defeating Australia at the Commonwealth Games in the semi-final, the young English could not defeat India in the final, which exposed its brittle nature.

Pool A is evenly balanced. Any four teams here - Busan Asian Games finalists, Korea and China, finalists of the last two Champions Trophies, Argentina and old war horse Germany -- has the potential to win the Cup. This pool is going to be focus pool, or pool of death, is the foregone conclusion. China, who will be hosting the 2008 Olympics, proved they are no longer a push over side. Having won both the major tournament they participated this year - Champions Trophy and the Asian Games - the Chinese present an awesome picture. It is to been seen whether the magical wand the Korean coach training the Chinese extend here too. In Chen Zhao Xia, the Chinese have a weapon to score goals at the penalty corners. Chinese are the most defensive of the sides now in the world. They scored just seven goals in six matches at Macau while conceding five including two against Argentina in the final, to lift their maiden Champions Trophy title. Remember the Chinese ran riot at the last Olympics in the first round, defeating even seasoned teams such as Holland ( 2-1) and Germany (2-1). China is the team to watch at Perth.

Koreans on the other hand are the wounded lines. The Chinese upstaged the 5-time gold winners Koreans at the Busan Asian Games. Korea's trainer Kim Sam Ryul, who had transformed the men's side in his previous stints, knew it's at Australia the Korean girls redeemed themselves 12 years ago. At Sydney the Koreans obtained bronze in the World Cup, then went on to win silver at the Atlanta Olympics. Perth presents an ideal opportunity for Kim to rediscover his wonted magic. With seasoned Lee Eun Young, who can easily be voted Perth's prettiest face, leading the side and Eun Jin Kim, who scored four goals at Sydney Olympics, going great guns, the Koreans has the potential to prove their power.

With an array of stars on its ranks, the Pan American powerhouse Argentina looks formidable. It's perhaps only country among the Perth participants where women hock

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