Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Field - Half A Dozen

We're reached the end of the first half of teams in this look at the competitors in the Rio Olympic field hockey event. If you've been keeping track, the field is much tighter on the women's side when it comes to having the top-twelve teams participating, yet there are a few missing teams due to the competition in their continental tournaments and at the FIH qualifiying tournaments. The men's side has a number of lower-ranked teams involved, showing that there may be more parity in the men's game until you get to the top-six. Nothing will be given based on rankings, though, so let's check out the next two teams in this series!

Women's #7 - Great Britain

QUALIFIED: 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship (1st-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Red, white, blue.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Bronze - 1992; bronze - 2012.


While Great Britain actually didn't qualify for the tournament per se, England won the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship to claim the European continental qualifying spot. With England being one of the four teams that make up Great Britain, the FIH qualified Great Britain based on England's results in the tournament. As a result, the FIH rankings for Great Britain always seem to push them lower than the rankings for England individually, and this makes for an interesting look at the Great Britain team.

Great Britain features players from England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland at international events. The FIH rankings show England at #7, Scotland at #17, Wales at #30, and Northern Ireland outside the top-35 in the world. Because England makes up the majority of the team, they assume England's ranking and take the top players from the other countries that make up the team. In short, Great Britain is a bit of a British Isles all-star squad.

Great Britain did compete at the FIH World League Semi-Finals in Valencia, Spain, and they did pretty well through the preliminary round. They recorded a 2-0 win over Spain, a 2-0 win over Argentina, a 4-2 win over Canada, and a 2-0 win over China. The quarterfinals saw them prevail over South Africa by a 2-0 score before downing Germany 1-0 in the semifinals. They would close out the tournament on a high as they downed China in the final by a 2-0 score. If you're counting, that's six shutouts in seven games - pretty darned good for a World League tournament.

England has a number of great players. Sophie Bray tied for the FIH World League tournament's goal-scoring lead with five while Alex Danson recorded four goals. Captain Kate Richardson-Walsh is a wildly popular player among her peers, and she'll lead a balanced scoring attack, a solid defensive squad, and a fit Great Britain onto the pitch in Rio. Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was named as Goalkeeper of the Tournament after her impressive performance at the FIH Semi-Finals, and she'll be counted on if Great Britain is to medal in Brazil.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: To write-off Great Britain as a "wild card" would be doing them a serious disservice. They have shown they can beat higher-ranked teams with some decisive wins over China and Argentina. They also have wins, albeit as England, over the Netherlands who are the top-ranked team on the planet. Great Britain might be the first team to truly have a shot at the medal podium in this examination. Don't expect any other team to just roll over for them, though.

Men's #7 - Argentina

QUALIFIED: 2015 Pan-American Games (1st-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Light blue, white, blue, black.


LONDON OLYMPICS: 10th-place.

Argentina qualified as the Americas continental qualifier by winning the 2015 Pan-American Games. They crushed Trinidad and Tobago 11-0, beat the Americans 6-0, downed Cuba 5-4 in a crazy game, pummeled Mexico 12-0 in the quarterfinals, downed Chile 6-0 in the semifinals, and captured the gold medal with a 3-0 win over Canada in the final. It was an impressive run for Argentina who only surrendered goals in one game out of the six games they took to the pitch.

Argentina is a tough team to figure out in that they slid from sixth-place to seventh-place in the FIH standings compared to last year, yet they seem to rise to the occasion when needed. They went 4-0 in the preliminary round at the FIH Semi-Finals in Buenos Aires - beating Germany, Canada, and Spain who all qualified for Rio - and then beat Japan and Canada in the medal round before falling to Germany in the final. They were heads-and-shoulders better than everyone at the Pan-American Games, so they should provide some intrigue at the Rio Olympics.

Argentina has an excellent balanced scoring attack based on the twelve men who found the back of the net in the two tournaments mentioned above. Gonzalo Peillat is probably the most dangerous striker as he scored 17 goals in the two tournaments, but to overlook Lucas Vila, Matias Parades, or Juan Gilardi would almost certainly result in a loss. While they surrendered more goals at the FIH Semi-Finals, they certainly scored enough to make up for the defensive breakdowns. They also have the experience of playing in the South American climate, and that could prove to be a difference-maker with the heat and humidity in Rio de Janiero.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: I will certainly go on record and say that Argentina is poised for a better finish than tenth-place as they finished in London. They'll have to be better defensively in Rio than they were at the FIH Semi-Finals if they hope to appear on the podium, but there's no denying that this team can score at will if given the opportunity. In saying that, I think their defensive breakdowns will catch up to them in this tournament, but they'll be a fun team to watch who enjoy filling the net!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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