NEW DELHI, March 10 (PTI): Defending champions Germany would start as favourites against European rivals England when they face each other in the semifinal of the hockey World Cup here tomorrow.
The Germans lost their last international match against England in the European Championships in August last year but with current form, they looked to have a slight edge. They are the only unbeaten side among the four teams in the semifinals.
Though without their main penalty corner taker Christoph Zeller in the side, the Germans have been more consistent than England in the pool stages after starting their title defence with a 2-2 draw against plucky South Korea. Germany, gunning for a hat-trick of World Cup titles after their triumphs in 2002 and 2006, drubbed Canada 6-0 in their second match before being stretched by South Africa in their 4-3 victory.
The last two matches, however, must have infused a lot of confidence in the Maximillian Muller-led side. They showed their never-say-die attitude by fighting back from one-goal down in their 2-2 draw against the Netherlands and almost won the match before Dutch captain Teun de Nooijer stole a late goal.
The 5-2 convincing victory over New Zealand would also have boosted Germany going into the semifinals. They had also beaten England 2-1 in their only earlier World Cup clash � in the 2006 edition.
England, who have never won a World Cup gold medal, have been dealt a huge setback after Richard Mantell returned home with an ankle injury in their third pool match against Pakistan.
The team management though refused to accept the impact of Mantell�s absence but after their match against Pakistan, they have been struggling. They could just barely beat India 3-2 and then lost 0-2 to Spain in their last pool match.
Mantell is the penalty corner specialist for England and he is also one of the best distributors of the ball in the world.
In his absence, the job of Ashley Jackson, the 2009 FIH Young Player of the Year and the second penalty corner taker in the team has increased.
Fortunately for England, the 22-year-old has been doing well in the tournament so far and has scored five goals, three field goals and two from the penalty corners. Reaching the semifinals of World Cup for the first time in 24 years after their silver medal show in the 1986 edition at home would be huge boost for a side which has been improving tremendously in the last one and half years. They would not want to let go the chance to finish at the podium.