THREE_TIME winners Australia will be tested not only by a steely New Zealand, but also by extreme heat when they play the first semi-final of the Commonwealth Games hockey here on Tuesday.
The match is scheduled at 1100 hours (0530 GMT) when the sun reaches its peak, which means the endurance power of the players will be on the line more than their skill with the stick.
The other semi-final between hosts India and England will be played in more tolerable conditions in the evening.
Australia coach Ric Charlesworth was left fuming at the scheduling.
“I just think that’s crazy, but nobody cares about what the players think or the coaches,” he said after Australia struggled in the heat in pulling off a 1-0 win over Pakistan on Saturday.
Other than the weather, Australia have not much to worry about.
They won all their four league matches, conceding just two goals — both to India — and scoring 22 in all.
The form of players like Luke Doerner (six goals) has also been a great plus for the world champions, looking to seal their fourth gold after having finished on top in the three previous editions.
New Zealand, who have yet to win a medal in the Games since the sport was introduced in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, have nothing to lose going into the tie.
“You will see the best hockey coming out of these guys in the next two games,” Black Sticks coach Shane McLeod said.
“The guys in their minds realise they have nothing to lose. They will be even more diligent in the execution of the game plan. They want to perform well and Australia demand that type of game from you as well.” “You’ve seen that with every game Australia has played. Their opposition has played very well. They’ve been smashed, but they’ve played well.” India go into their semi-final tie drained by their exhilirating 7-4 win over arch-rivals Pakistan on Sunday.
The build-up to the marquee game and the way it unfolded left Jose Brasa’s men exhausted but they would be wise to realise that a medal is still to be won.
“We have crossed the Pakistan hurdle, now we are ready for anyone,” said striker Shivendra Singh.
“We know we have never won a medal in the Commonwealth Games. That target is top-most on our minds now.” England, who beat South Africa 2-1 to qualify for the semis, will be looking forward to the India match with trepidation after the way a crowd of 19,000 rooted for their home team on Sunday night.
“It is phenomenal to see the crowds here,” said in-form striker James Tindall who has starred for England in the tournament so far with four goals.
“You have the best atmosphere when the crowds are in. When India is playing, obviously they will be cheered. The key for the opposition is not to get bogged down.”