Australia coach Colin Batch says his side won’t be underestimating world number 10 Ireland in their opening game of the 2018 FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup in Bhubaneswar.
The Kookaburras last played Ireland at the Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia in March, winning 4-1, continuing their perfect record in nine international meetings with Ireland.The Irish also warmed up for the World Cup with five matches at the recent Four Nations in Valencia where they recorded two wins over world number seven England.
Pointing to those results and the FIH Women’s World Cup earlier this year, where Ireland reached the final, Batch said the Kookaburras wouldn’t be taking anyone lightly.
“Any team can cause an upset here,” Batch said at the pre-match press conference. “I think Ireland is one of those teams.
“We haven’t played them since earlier this year. It’s a different group that we’re playing against.
“They’ve had some good results in Europe. We’re not underestimating them. We need to take care of our own performance. They’ll be a very competitive and difficult opponent for us on Friday so we need to play at our best.”
Australia arrived in India last Saturday and trained in midweek at a venue which is familiar to them having won last year’s World League Final in December at the Kalinga Stadium.
They drew all three group matches at the World League Final, before triumphing in all three knockout matches to take out the title.
“We continued to improve during the tournament,” Batch said. “We could not win a game in the group stage but we drew three games against quality opposition. We made it to the quarter-finals and our hockey improved significantly from there.
“We have got some belief from that tournament that we can continue to improve at whatever level we start at. Earlier this year we have got some success in the Commonwealth Games and the Champions Trophy. Each tournament creates different obstacles.”
Australia heads into the 2018 World Cup as one of the favourites for the title, given their 2010 and 2014 success, as well as their success over the past 12 months at the World League Final, Commonwealth Games and Champions Trophy.
The side achieved modest results this week in the lead-up to the Ireland clash, defeating South Africa (ranked 15th) 2-1 and drew 1-1 with Germany (sixth) in warm-up matches.
Kookaburras co-captain Aran Zalewski said the players were out to create their own history.
“It’s great that Australia has such a proud history in World Cups,” he said. “We have taken experiences from the past but this is completely different group. We have now got 10 guys making their debut at World Cup.
“For us as a team this is our first real chance of winning a World Cup as a group. We are not taking it as pressure but as a challenge.”