Friday, September 24, 2010

Aussies teams to beat

Hockey will be among the biggest shows in town at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, with Australia at centre stage.

More tickets have been pre-sold for hockey than any other sport at the October 3-14 Games, where the final pool match between arch-rivals Pakistan and hosts India could produce fireworks for a sellout crowd.

But the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos head to the Indian capital as the teams to beat.

Ric Charlesworth's outstanding Kookaburras are the undisputed world No.1 side, having already claimed the men's World Cup and Champions Trophy this year.

However, Charlesworth has been critical of the planning of his side's Games fixture schedule, which he says will be played at the hottest part of the day and makes winning gold far from a foregone conclusion.

The former WA Sheffield Shield cricketer and Federal Labor MP, who also guided the Hockeyroos to gold at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, is a renowned hard taskmaster who expects high standards from his players, something not lost on experienced midfielder Mark Knowles.

Knowles was stunned to be omitted from the squad that went to the Champions Trophy in August.

The 26-year-old, a member of the 2004 Athens Olympics gold medal squad, admits he was unhappy to be left behind, but said Charlesworth selection methods ensure high standards are maintained.

"It was a surprise to be left out, but Ric explained to me his reasons and although it took me a few weeks to get over it, I then realised it was the first time in years I had any time away from the game," Knowles told AAP.

"I now see that it was the right thing for me and although the Comm Games is the third biggest event of a busy year, I am desperate to do well in it having missed out on the Champions Trophy."

"Ric is constantly challenging us and setting us goals, but that makes him such a great coach.

"He is always looking to improve things and make sure the squad continues to evolve so we can stay on top."

England, the only team to beat the Kookaburras this year, in a pool match at the World Cup, loom as their biggest threat for gold in Delhi.

Charlesworth is wary of the English, despite his side's comfortable 4-0 win over them in the Champions Trophy final and he warns India, Pakistan and New Zealand can also pose problems.

"India and Pakistan have the fortune of being used to the conditions and will of course have a lot of local support which will be a huge advantage to them," said Charlesworth. "New Zealand always raise their game against us."

Hockeyroos coach Frank Murray announced he will quit after Delhi following the side's disappointing displays in this month's women's World Cup in Argentina.

Murray's side finished fifth and have been rocked by the retirements of experienced players Hope Munro and Kim Walker as well as a serious knee injury to Teneal Attard.

However, in Kate Hollywood, Kobie McGurk and captain Madonna Blythe, there is enough talent in the side to be in medal contention.

Like the men, England will be the biggest threat to gold with the side finishing third behind Argentina and Holland in the World Cup.

But Murray is still confident his side are good enough to defend the Games title they won in Melbourne.

"We are in a period of transition but we are confident with the squad we have and believe we are good enough to win in Delhi," Murray said.