Rivals on edge for World Cup semi-finals

NEW DELHI: Injury-stricken England hope to build on their amazing resurgence in field hockey when they take on defending champions Germany in the World Cup semi-final on Thursday.

Hot favourites Australia take on a shaky Netherlands in the other semi-final the same night, looking to reach their third successive Cup final after a power-packed display in preliminary matches.

England proved their spectacular European Cup win last year ahead of the sport''s powerhouses Germany, the Netherlands and Spain was not a flash in the pan as they finished second in group B behind Australia.

Jason Lee''s men won four of their five matches, including a stunning 3-2 win over Australia, despite losing striker Matt Daly before the tournament and penalty corner specialist Richard Mantell later due to injuries.

"It''s a revival we have worked hard for," said Lee as England prepared for their first World Cup semi-final since 1986. "But this is the real thing and we can''t afford to slip-up."

Their rivals Germany, seeking an unprecedented hat-trick of titles to add to the Beijing Olympic gold medal, will hope to avenge the 5-3 defeat at England''s hands in the European final.

The Germans, with just three players who helped win the last World Cup at home in Monchengladbach, are the only unbeaten team in the current tournament with three wins and two draws.

"There have been a few hits and misses, but it is creditable for this young team to make the semi-finals," said German coach Markus Weise.

Australia, coached by the legendary Ric Charlesworth, overcame the shock defeat to England in their first match to win their next four, including a World Cup record score of 12-0 against South Africa.

The Kookaburras charge has been led by penalty corner ace Luke Doerner, whose six goals so far puts him on top of the leading scorers'' list alongside Dutchman Taeke Taekema.

Jamie Dwyer, the International Hockey Federation''s player of the year for 2009, and fellow-striker Glenn Turner have shown their mettle up front with five goals apiece.

Australia came into the tournament by winning the elite six-nation Champions Trophy at home in Melbourne in December by beating Germany in the final 5-3 after trailing 1-3 at half-time.

"I am not looking too far ahead," said Charlesworth, who played in Australia''s only World Cup winning squad in 1986. "The Dutch are never easy to beat, but I am glad the boys are shaping up well."

Australia, who have scored more goals - 23 - in the league than any other team, defeated the Dutch 4-1 the last time the two sides met in a World Cup semi-final in Malaysia in 2002.

The Netherlands, who won the last of their three World Cup titles in 1998, almost missed the semi-finals after losing their last league match to South Korea 2-1 on Tuesday.

If the Asian champions had netted one more goal, they would have levelled the Dutch on goal difference and advanced to the knock-out rounds by virtue of winning their league encounter.

But Taekema''s penalty corner expertise and the guile of brilliant midfielder Teun de Nooijer give the Dutch hope against one of the most formidable sides in the game.