Hockey fans around the world have been treated to some pulsating action over the last three months or so as the top eight teams from Europe, South America, and Oceania have shuttled across all three continents, combating fatigue and jet lag in an effort to finish amongst the top four.
The action, which began in Valencia in the third week of January will reach its climax in Amsterdam in two month's time with most teams having tested their bench strength like never before.
A winless New Zealand side have just two points from nine games, and are currently languishing at the bottom, while Spain are winless too - but have piled up four vital shootout bonus points with a total of eight in the kitty from the nine matches that they have played in.
The Germans fail to come good yet again
The mighty Germans have eights points too, from the seven matches they have played thus far - and the team that allowed India to inch ahead in the world rankings last year has a lot to prove, after a series of results that have not necessarily been indicative of their performance on the field.
The Hockey World League Final in Bhubaneswar witnessed a string of German players failling ill, and despite a valiant display by the visitors, the depleted squad lost the bronze-medal match to India in December 2017.
A year later, at the same venue, the three-time Olympic champions began in style but failed to make it to the last four stage at the World Cup.
Stefan Kermas' side promised much after thrashing eventual silver-medalists, the Netherlands, en route to ensuring themselves a direct quarterfinal berth after topping Odisha 2018's pool of death.
Yet, the Germans, who were not part of last year's Champions Trophy, had to fly home earlier than they would have like to, after failing to get past the Belgian Red Lions at the Kalinga Stadium.
The Germans had a mixed away-from-home campaign at the FIH Pro League, losing to Australia but managing to beat New Zealand and Holland.
The Spanish, who have thrived primarily on shootout wins, stole a point from the Germans, at Valencia, while the rain played spoilsport against Argentina, forcing a cancellation which did no good to the Europeans.
The Germans had a couple of home matches scheduled at just about the right juncture, and a good performance, or two, at Monchengladbach could have turned the tide decisively in favor of the hosts.
As it turned out, however, the former World Champions of 2002 and 2006 failed to earn a single point in spite of a spirited show and now find themselves perched precariously in sixth place in terms of percentage of wins.
Van der Weeden announces return to form with brace
At the Hockeypark, on Friday, Max Caldas' boys came hard at the Germans right from the opening whistle, and Mink van der Weeden, who has been struggling with his form, of late, found the mark with a PC goal as early as the fifth minute.
Malte Hellwig drew level soon after, and when Lukas Windfeder gave his team the lead midway through the second quarter, it all seemed to be going right for the Germans. Arjen Lodewijks restored parity for the Dutch just before half-time, however, and a barren third quarter set up what promised to be an exciting final session.
A slight deflection may well have helped van der Weeden score the opener, but the ace drag flicker need no assistance whatsoever to fire in his second goal with eight minutes left on the clock.
The monster strike meant that the Germans had no option but to take their custodian off, which helped Bjorn Kellerman to score at the death - after having hit the outside of the post seconds earlier.
The final goal left Florian Fuchs fuming, as the striker felt he was hard done by following a harsh tackle, but the referee thought otherwise, and the match ended with a 4-2 scoreline in favor of the Dutch.
Fuchs, incidentally, was not present on the pitch, on Sunday, when his side took on Great Britain with all to play for, but bad luck continued to dog the Germans as a couple of strikes found the post - while Phil Roper's shot seemed to have been taken from just outside the striking circle before a video referral led to GB being awarded their only goal.
Replays showed that Roper had taken the shot on the line, and the lone goal was sufficient to ensure that his side emerged victorious - incidentally, it was the first time that Great Britian had beaten Germany since the Sydney Olympics of 2000.
For the time being, at least, Danny Kerry's chargers find themselves placed at the top of the heap in terms of percentage of wins, along with Belgium, and ahead of old rivals Australia - who they lost to earlier in the competition.
The Dutch, meanwhile, seem to have overcome the turbulence in their ranks following scheduling issues with their local clubs, and are now placed fourth in the league with three wins and two losses from seven matches.
The action shifts to London next weekend when GB host Spain, while the kookaburras travel out of Oceania for the first time in the competition to take on fifth-placed Argentina in Beunos Aires.Published 29 Apr 2019, 07:44 IST