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2018 World Cup News
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Best of the best: Australia or Pakistan? (11/22/2018)
--Errol D’Cruz
Which is the greatest team in World Cup hockey history? It boils down to comparing the exploits of Pakistan and Australia in the 1982 and 2014 events respectively. Both teams made nonsense of the field on those occasions. Pakistan went on the rampage in conditions that suited them in Mumbai -- sweltering heat and lush green natural grass surfaces at the BHA and Wankhede stadiums. Thirty-two years later, Australia did likewise in The Hague, The Netherlands. There were significant differences though – the surface was artificial at the Kyocera and Greenfields stadiums and Pakistan were absent, failing to qualify.

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Pakistan beat Germany in the final 3-1 to aggregate 38-12 from seven matches. Australia routed the hosts Netherlands in their final 6-1. Their goal record at the end of a campaign of total domination read 30-3.

There was no victory margin less than two goals for either side. Pakistan topped their pool with a goal record of 31-9. Led by Akhtar Rasool, the solid centre-half, the Green Shirts beat Germany 5-3, Poland and Spain 4-1, Argentina 6-1 and clobbered New Zealand 12-3.

They then beat the Netherlands 4-2 to make the final where they had things much their way against Germany struggling to cope with the intense heat.

Australia won their pool beating England 5-0, Malaysia and India 4-0, Spain 3-0 and Belgium 3-1 to run up a 19-1 goal record.

In the semifinals they brushed aside Argentina 5-1 and after trailing by a goal – just like Pakistan did in the 1982 final – came back to crush the Netherlands and make it the most one-sided World Cup final ever. There were further similarities. Both Pakistan and Australia retained titles and would have notched hat-tricks had they won the final preceding their back-to-back titles.

Pakistan lost to India 1-2 at Kuala Lumpur 1975, Australia to Germany 3-4 at Moenchengladbach 2006. In 1982, Hassan Sardar was the spearhead in an explosive forward line that comprised Manzoor Jr, Samiullah Khan, Hanif Khan and Kaleemulah Khan.

Curiously, though, they did not meet Australia, the pre-tournament favourites. The Aussies had come to grief in a penalty shootout against Germany in the semifinals.

In 2014, the Australians epitomized the competence that their coach Ric Charlesworth exuded. The icon was part of the Aussies’ first ever World Cup triumph at London 1986 and won it as a coach in Delhi 2010. In the Aussies’ ranks were seven-goal hero Chris Ciriello who scored a hat-trick in the final from drag flicks. Captained by iconic defender Mark Knowles, they also fielded livewire forward Jamie Dwyer of over 300 caps.

Kieran Govers, Glenn Turner and Mathew Swann added to the misery of rival defences at The Hague and although falling short of the goal tally of the Pakistanis 32 years earlier, 11 goals in the medal rounds makes for mind boggling reading.

Australia still have a chance of registering hockey’s first-ever World Cup hat-trick after having reached the final four times in a row starting with the 2002 Kuala Lumpur edition.

The closest any team has come to clinching a hat-trick was when twice-champions Germany bowed to Australia in the 2010 Delhi final 1-2.

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The Aussies have won the World Cup three times. Pakistan, a record four.

Deciding on the best team in World Cup history, however, may be a futile exercise given the separate set of conditions, not to mention the sea changes in rules and the nature of the game in the intervening 32 years. Australia were devastating at The Hague. True to their wont, they attacked and defended in numbers, were relentless in search for goals and clinical in the D.

For the neutrals, the torrid weather, the surface and the huge advantage they brought Asian teams in Mumbai may discount Pakistan fans’ claims.

But coming close to scoring 40 goals and doing it with finesse and style may have left no doubt to those fortunate – and old enough – to have watched the 1982 World Cup that the tag belongs to Pakistan.

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