Women's #8 - South Korea
TEAM COLOURS: Red, white, blue.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: Silver - 1988; silver - 1996.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 8th-place.
South Korea was the first team to qualify for the Rio Olympics with their tournament win at the 2014 Asian Games. They went undefeated in the preliminary round, hammering Kazakhstan 11-0, downing Japan 2-0, and crushing Hong Kong 8-0. The beat India in the semifinals by a 3-1 score, and then captured the championship over China by a 1-0 score. With the win, they earned the Asian continental qualifying spot for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
South Korea also took part in the FIH World League Semi-Finals in Antwerp, Belgium. The preliminary round saw the Korean squad tie Italy 1-1, fall to the Netherlands 2-1, hammer France 11-0, and beat Japan 1-0. In the quarterfinals, they downed Belgium in a penalty shootout, downed New Zealand in a penalty shootout in the semifinals, and lost in the final to the Netherlands by a 2-1 score. Overall, not a bad showing from the South Korean team at the FIH Semi-Finals.
The South Korean team can score as shown by their two tournament performances. In the two events, Kim Jong-eun recorded eight goals, Oh Sun-soon scored six goals, Park Mi-hyun had five goals, and Cheon Eun-bi had four goals. 13 players scored for the Koreans in the two events, and they finished first- and second-place in the two events. This could be a team to keep an eye on.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: I had stated that these teams in the middle of the pack could be wild cards, and South Korea fits the bill. They can score in bunches when given the opportunity, and they can certainly keep pace with the good teams. They are excellent in penalty shootouts, and they beat some good teams ranked ahead of them at the FIH Semi-Finals. A medal isn't out of the question for the South Korean squad by any means. A betting man would take a safer bet, but the Koreans could be on the podium after all is said and done.
Men's #8 - New Zealand
TEAM COLOURS: Black, white, light blue.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: Gold - 1976.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 9th-place.
New Zealand needed help to make the Olympics as they finished in sixth-place at the FIH World League Semi-Finals and lost to Australia at the 2015 Oceanic Cup. With four spots available, they got the help they needed when Argentina - second at the FIH Semi-Finals - won the 2015 Pan-American Games to become the North American continental qualifier, and the Netherlands - third at the FIH Semi-Finals - won the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship to become the European continental qualifier. Their qualifying spots at the FIH Semi-Finals then went to the next best teams - Spain at fifth-place and New Zealand at sixth-place!
New Zealand got off on the right foot in the preliminary round at the FIH Semi-Finals with a 4-0 win over Egypt. They then beat Japan 2-1, tied the Netherlands 1-1, and tied South Korea 3-3. They ran into a plucky Canadian team in the quarterfinals, though, and fell in a penalty shootout after ending the game in a scoreless draw. They would meet Japan again in the consolation semifinals and win 4-1 before losing to Spain in the fifth-place game by a 3-1 score.
Captain Simon Child was the leading scorer for New Zealand in the FIH Semi-Finals with four goals, but the scoring threats are many on the Black Sticks squad. Steve Edwards, Hugo Inglis, and Nick Haig all had solid tournaments as well, and nine different players recorded goals over the course of the tournament. New Zealand proved they can play with the big teams as they played to a draw with the Netherlands, but their loss to Canada still leaves some room for improvement.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: New Zealand has all the makings of an Olympic champion with balanced scoring, good defence, and excellent fitness. New Zealand also seems to fall into periods of scoring droughts against teams that play a defence-first mentality. While there is no denying they have the talent to stand on the podium, a consistent effort over the two-week Olympic tournament will be needed if they hope to take down some of the better teams.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!