Monday, 25 July 2016

The Field - Part One

As HBIC gets set for the 2016 Rio Olympic field hockey event, I feel the need to get you informed as well. As much as this blog is devoted to ice hockey, the summer game of hockey played on grass or turf is always a treat to watch. I don't have a team near Headquarters that I can go and watch, so getting to see the best play the best at the Olympics is a good way to get into the game and understand the rules and nuances of the game. While the Rio Olympics are still taking hits about the facilities and safety at the Games, the Deodoro facility has been ready for some time for the field hockey event.

In saying that, we'll run down the 24 teams that make up both the men's and women's events in Rio with a two-a-day introduction over the next twelve days. We'll work from the lowest seed based on the FIH rankings to the top squads as we try to determine how the event may play out. All predictions are guaranteed or your money back! All jokes aside, let's get this started!

Women's #14 - Spain

QUALIFIED: 2014-15 Women's FIH World League Semi-Finals (6th-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Yellow, red, navy blue.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Gold - 1992.

LONDON OLYMPICS: Did not participate.

At first, Spain wasn't a part of the Olympic Games as Great Britain had secured one of the FIH spots with their win in Valencia, Spain. However, Great Britain also won the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship which is the continental qualifier, meaning that the next best four teams in the tournament would be qualified.

Spain still needed help, however, and they got it when the American team, who slid into the fifth spot after Great Britain's continental qualifier, won the 2015 Pan American Games gold medal. With the USA claiming a continental spot, their spot at the FIH Semi-Final tournament opened up which allowed Spain, as the sixth-place team, to move into the qualifying spot.

Spain lost a penalty shootout at the FIH Semi-Final tournament quarterfinal match to ninth-ranked Germany, but they showed a lot of moxie in losing to seventh-ranked Great Britain 2-0, beating sixth-ranked China 1-0, beating 20th-ranked Canada 3-0, and tying second-ranked Argentina 2-2. Their efforts ranked them third in their pool, tied with Argentina and ahead of China. Goal differential would push Argentina ahead of Spain, but there's no doubt that they had turned some heads.

After the heartbreaking loss to Germany which pushed them to the consolation side of the bracket, Spain beat 11th-ranked South Africa 2-0 in the crossover semi-final game before falling to the United States in the consolation final by a 3-1 score. As we know, it looked bleak at the time, but Spain is in the Olympic tournament with Great Britain and USA winning their continental tournaments.

Spain's Georgina Oliva was named as the Player of the Tournament at the FIH Semi-Finals, so they have some talent. Defender RocĂ­o Ybarra captains the team, and she has extensive international experience in her 14 years with the national program. The scoring threats are spread around the lineup with no players having shown up more than a couple of times in the last few tournaments, but Spain can score if given the opportunity.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: They'll scare some of the teams in the tournament with their refusal to give up, but the Spanish squad will be hard-pressed to overcome some of the truly elite teams in the tournament. If they medal at any level in Rio, they've played far above their heads.

Men's #30 - Brazil

QUALIFIED: 2015 Pan-American Games (4th-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Yellow, green.


LONDON OLYMPICS: Did not participate.

Brazil was under the gun from the moment that the Olympic Games were awarded to Rio. The International Olympic Committee required that the host nation be ranked no lower than 30th at the end of 2014 - they were lower at the time - or finish no worse than sixth at the 2015 Pan American Games. Brazil downed USA in the quarterfinals in a penalty shootout, giving them a finish no worse than fourth-place and qualifying them to be part of the Rio Olympics.

This is a team that will find it hard to even record goals, let alone wins, at the 2016 Olympic Games. Brazil's Pan-American Games saw them fall 9-1 to Canada, win 1-0 over Mexico, and lose 3-1 to Chile in the preliminary round. I've noted the penalty shootout win over USA where the two teams tied at 1-1 through regulation time, and they fell to Canada in the semifinals in a penalty shootout that saw the two teams finish the match tied at 0-0. They also fell in the bronze medal game to Chile by a 4-1 score. Needless to say, Brazil struggles to find the net as they scored no more than one goal in any match.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: While it's tough to write-off a team before an event starts, the Brazilian team has very few scoring threats and certainly is the lowest-ranked team for a reason. I can't write anything about the team's make-up because they haven't shown any stars on the roster. If they happen to score a win in the Rio Olympics, that might very well be their gold medal.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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