BHUBANESWAR, NOV 29: Seeking a hat-trick of titles, defending champions Australia begin their campaign against minnows Ireland in the Hockey World Cup here on Friday.
The world number one Kookaburras would start as overwhelming favourites against 10th ranked Ireland in the Pool B match.
Australia have won the World Cup thrice -- 1986, 2010 and 2014 -- and they have been a dominant side in world hockey for quite a few years now, though the few Olympic medals did not reflect it.
The world champions have just passed through a transition phase with some senior players like Jamie Dwyer and Mark Knowles hanging up their boots. But come Friday, Australia would be looking to beat Ireland by a big margin to boost their confidence ahead of the remaining two pool matches.
The Kookaburras have 10 new players in their squad and co-captain of the side Aran Zalewski said they were taking the opportunity as a "challenge".
"This is completely a 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," he said.
Head coach Colin Batch said Ireland might be ranked way below his side but it would be a mistake on their part to underestimate their opponents.
"They (Ireland) are a threat. Any team can cause an upset here. Ireland is one of those teams we have not played since early this year. So we are not underestimating them," Batch said.
"We need to take care of our own performance. They will be very competitive and difficult opponent for us."
Ireland, on the other hand, have nothing to lose and will come out without any pressure in search of an unlikely upset win.
Ireland does not boast of a rich hockey history as Australia. Prior to the current edition, Ireland qualified for the World Cup only twice -- finishing at the 12th place on both occasions in 1978 and 1990.
In other Pool B match on Friday, England will play China.
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