England can take a huge step towards a place in the semi-finals of the World Cup if they overcome hosts India in Delhi today; with the Indians having played three and lost two, putting them out of the race for the next round, their chances look promising.
However, they will have to do without defender Richard Mantell, who dislocated his ankle in England's last game against Pakistan and will be out for the rest of the tournament. "Richard is our key player and we're going to miss him. He's very good in long distribution of the ball," Jason Lee, the England coach, said.
None the less, England are favourites to beat India, whose confidence is at an all-time low after consecutive defeats to Australia and Spain. The home side have struggled to deal with the pace and strength of their rivals and their defence has looked leaky at best. One bright spot will be the return of in-form Shivendra Singh from a two-match suspension.
England are playing their best hockey for a long time. Their last semi-final appearance came in London in 1986 but their efforts so far here suggest they are about to end that drought. Their victory over Pakistan was hailed by their captain, Barry Middleton: "This is the best we've played in this tournament; we showed why we are European champions." Lee also heaped praise on his team for their biggest win over Pakistan: "It was a fantastic victory. It was a difficult match but the manner in which we played showed a lot of character. We played excellent hockey in a match where emotions ran high."
Yesterday's encounters saw the Netherlands held on to top spot in Pool A with a 6-0 win over Canada. The Canadians kept the Dutch at bay in the first half but folded after the interval. Penalty-corner specialist Taeke Taekema struck twice from short corners and took his tally to six in three matches; Rogier Hofman added two field goals while Ronald Brouwer and Rob Reckers also found the net.
With nine points from three games, the Netherlands are now favourites to reach the semis; Canada lost all three pool matches. New Zealand, meanwhile, stunned South Korea 2-1 and now have six points from three games. The shock defeat left Korea struggling on just four points from three matches.