Defending Olympic champions Germany gave an exhibition of their steely nerves coupled with brilliant strategy to stop the Australian winning spree with a 4-2 semifinal victory that gave Maximillian Muller's team a chance of becoming only the third team in Olympic Games history to clinch two successive men's hockey gold medals.

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After India's six-goal winning sequence from 1928 to 1956, only Netherlands have won two successive gold medals in men's hockey by climbing the victory podium at Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000).

But to achieve that on Saturday, the clinical Germany need to overcome a massive challenge in the form of a dazzling Netherlands, who announced their intentions in no uncertain terms by giving Great Britain a 9-2 hammering.

Netherlands' victory margin has got the record keepers busy in trying to find the instances of such results in the past. Big scores are now the order, but a seven-goal victory even in this era of fast-paced hockey is a rarity, especially in the semifinals.

Germany were expected to run into World Cup holders Australia in the title encounter, but for a hiccup suffered by the Germans in the pool outing against Netherlands that had the two top-ranked teams clashing in the semifinals.

But the rematch between Germany and Netherlands has the making of a fascinating contest. It will be a treat for hockey lovers.

It required an outstanding performance to stop the title winning sequence of the Australians since Charlesworth took over as their coach.

Winners of the World Cup, the Commonwealth Games and three successive Champions Trophies under Ric Charlesworth, the robust Australians cannot be faulted for believing that the Olympic title was theirs for the taking. After all, they were the No. 1 team in the world.

Germany have fielded quite a different side from the one that won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. As is coach Markus Weise's habit, he tends to play down their chances.

But Germany can never go into the tournament without tons of expectations from hockey watchers. Such is the structure and strength of their domestic competitions that young players, capable of taking on the world will always be ready whenever a vacancy arises in the national squad.

The Germans, under Maximillian Mueller will be eager to settle a score with Netherlands. The dramatic transformation of the Dutch, from their opening outing against India to the rampaging outfit that humiliated hosts great Britain in the semifinals, has given the German squad's think-tank something to think about.

Dutch veteran Teun De Nooijer already has two Olympic gold medals and a silver in his collection, which he wants to decorate further with another glittering one from London 2012. The turnaround and growing confidence of the Dutch has altered the scenario since they opened the campaign against India.

Netherlands only managed to beat the tentative Indian team 3-2, but look at the way the fortunes of these two teams have shaped since then. The Dutch have burst into the final and are now seeking the gold medal, while India is hoping to win at least one match in these Olympics to avoid the bottom spot in the competition.

Indian hockey's memories of London include the first gold medal for independent India in the 1948 Olympic Games, and then the dejection of the last-place finish from among 12 nations in the 1986 World Cup.

It takes a lot of effort to regroup from the sort of debacle this Indian team has experienced. There are problems that have been exposed, but it is a challenge for the team to come out and produce a better show against South Africa so that India does not finish at the bottom of the table on their return to the Olympic Games after failing to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


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