Australia could win the World Cup … in the Netherlands

Australia’s Anna Flanagan reacts after scoring against Belgium in the Field Hockey World Cup. EPA/Evert-Jan Daniels

Like most Australians, I will be staying up late to watch our country play in the FIFA World Cup. But I will also be watching the other World Cup.

We’re being bombarded by pre-publicity for the Football World Cup rather than the Hockey World Cup, but in the Hockey World Cup, Australia has a good chance of bringing home some silverware.

Like football, every four years the top hockey-playing nations compete for the title of world champions, a title equalled in prestige only by Olympic gold. This year (until June 15), both the men’s and women’s Hockey World Cup is being held in The Hague in the Netherlands.

The two World Cups

There are some interesting similarities and differences between the soccer and hockey and the two World Cups.

The Hockey World Cup is a tournament of the top 12 teams divided into two pools, with each team playing the other five teams in its pool. The top two teams from each pool will play off in two semi-final matches to determine who will play in the final. All matches will be played on just two pitches, with the larger stadium holding 15,000 spectators.

Kookaburra’s striker Eddie Ockenden. 2014 World Cup Organisation

It is a much smaller tournament than the 32-team football World Cup, which uses 12 venues and with the final held at the Maracana – a stadium that has held crowds of 200,000 (although for the World Cup it will have a capacity of about 75,000).

FIH, DRS and rules

Both sports are embracing technology. While FIFA has been developing its goal-line technology, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has also been using technology to advance hockey with the introduction of a video umpire.

Similar to the cricket Decision Review System (DRS), each team has one referral to the video umpire per match. A successful referral results in the team retaining the referral, while an unsuccessful referral means the team cannot refer any further decision for the match.

Unlike the cricket DRS, the hockey television audience can hear the discussion between the umpire on the field and the video umpire, allowing the viewer to understand the reason for the video umpire’s decision.

While football has debated the abolition of the offside rule, hockey scrapped the rule almost 20 years ago. This has resulted in a faster, higher-scoring game, which has arguably aided countries such as Australia that play in an attacking style.

Wages and WAGs

Australia’s Jodie Kenny. AAP/Evert-Jan Daniels

The lifestyle of an international hockey player is very different to that of their football counterparts. The players at the Hockey World Cup do not have multi-million dollar playing contracts with European clubs. While some hockey players are able to make money playing the sport they love, it is not in the same league as footballers.

It is also worth noting that hockey WAGs do not over-shadow the main sporting event.

Australian officials are well represented at both World Cups. Australian football referee, Ben Williams, along with his assistants, Matthew Cream and Hakan Anaz, will officiate in Brazil.

Similarly, six Australian umpires and technical officials will be making sure the matches run smoothly in The Hague. In both games, these officials use their annual leave or take leave without pay to be part of the game that they love.

Australia’s chances at the Hockey World Cup

Like all Australian sporting teams, the Australian hockey teams follow the usual tradition of either being named after an Australian animal or adding “roo” to the end of the name of the sport. The Australian men’s team – the Kookaburras – and the Australian women’s team – the Hockeyroos – are both likely do well at the World Cup.

AAP/Evert-Jan Daniels

The Kookaburras are the reigning world champions and are ranked number 1 in the world. Like the Socceroos, one of the Kookaburra’s toughest opponents is likely to be the Netherlands.

But unlike the Socceroos, the Kookaburras have not drawn the Netherlands in their pool. Instead, the Aussies are likely to meet the host-nation in the final. The Kookaburras are set to play Argentina in the semi-finals on Friday.

The Hockeyroos are currently the 4th ranked team in the World and have started the tournament in good form. They had a difficult draw during the pool matches, having to play the top ranked team, the Netherlands, in front of a passionate home crowd – the Dutch love hockey as much as Brazilians love football.

Unfortunately, the Hockeyroos went down 2-0 to the Dutch, but have still made it through to the semi-finals. The Hockeyroos will play the United States in the semi-finals tomorrow.

While hockey is a relatively popular sport in Australia, it does not have the participation levels of football. Despite this fact, both the Hockeyroos and the Kookaburras continue to perform strongly on the world stage.

So while the Socceroos have three tough group matches against Chile, the Netherlands and Spain, the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos might still bring home a World Cup for Australia.