Olympics - Form book favours Australian hockey players

NEW DELHI Fri Jul 13, 2012 9:09pm IST

Australia's players celebrate with the trophy after their victory in their final match against Pakistan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, 200km (120 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, May 15, 2011. REUTERS/Samsul Said/Files

Australia's players celebrate with the trophy after their victory in their final match against Pakistan in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup hockey tournament in Ipoh, 200km (120 miles) north of Kuala Lumpur, May 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Samsul Said/Files

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Having scooped up every major title worth possessing in the last couple of years, the Australian men's hockey team may well be kicking themselves if they return from the London Olympics with anything less than the gold.

The reigning World Cup, Champions Trophy, Commonwealth Games and Oceania Cup champions have had a sensational run in the last two years and are the overwhelming favourites in London.

The bronze they returned with from Beijing four years ago still rankles the Kookaburras who, led by five-time World Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer, seem to have left no stones unturned this time around.

Even if that means forcing a change in the original schedule to have one of their early matches pushed back to a more convenient time.

Head coach Ric Charlesworth is wary of the new blue-and-pink turf at London's Riverbank Arena which he found bouncy and slippery but that should not be much of a worry for the world number one team.

Australia have picked 10 Olympic debutants in the squad and the abundant talent meant it was not easy selecting the best 16.

"It is our job to make judgements about balance and covering every base but in the end there are players that are unlucky," Charlesworth said. "This has been a long process over 12 months and many factors were considered."

In contrast, defending champions Germany retained 10 players from 2008, including the Zeller brothers - Christopher and Philipp - and the Wess brothers - Benjamin and Timo.

Spain, whom Germany beat to win gold in Beijing, also retained as many players from their silver medal winning squad, including captain Santi Freixa, but there is less optimism around the team since they came last in a recent four-nations tournament in Dusseldorf.

Also in medal contention will be Netherlands, who have dropped stalwarts Taeke Taekema and Jeroen Hertzberger but retained veteran midfielder Teun de Nooijer, who was part of both the 1996 and 2000 champions team.

However, Netherlands' best chance of winning a hockey gold lies with the women team led by the redoubtable Maartje Paumen.

Their biggest obstacle would be current World Champions and Champions Trophy holders Argentina, led by veteran Luciana Aymar, while the German eves will also be in medal contention to atone for their lack of success since finishing fourth in Beijing. (Editing by Frank Pingue)

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