Hockey Headlines

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Field - Part Three

In this continuing series as we prepare for the start of the Rio Olympic field hockey event, HBIC will continue to look at the teams who make up the field for both the men's and women's tournaments. We've already previewed Spain and India on the women's side while Brazil and Canada were introduced on the men's side. All four team are probably going to struggle against the best teams in the world, but anything can happen and that's why the games are played on the field. In saying that, let's look at the next two teams in this series!

Women's #10 - Japan

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

TEAM COLOURS: Red, blue, white.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: None.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 9th-place.

Like India's qualification, Japan's inclusion in Rio was due to the fortune of others. Four spots were available at the Antwerp FIH Semi-Finals, and Japan claimed the final spot in Antwerp. The Netherlands won that tournament and claimed a spot. Second-place South Korea had already qualified by winning the 2014 Asian Games. New Zealand took a second qualifier spot by finishing in third-place, but Australia's spot was up for grabs after they won the 2015 Oceanic Cup. With two remaining spots open, fifth-place India grabbed a spot and sixth-place Japan also qualified for Rio.

Japan started the Antwerp tournament with a 6-1 win over France, but it went downhill from there. The Netherlands beat Japan 4-0, Japan and Italy tied at 2-2, and South Korea beat Japan 1-0 in the preliminary round. The quarterfinal match saw them drop a 5-1 decision to New Zealand, but a penalty shootout win over Belgium pushed Japan into the consolation final where they met India. India would finish in fifth-place with a 1-0 win, but Japan did enough to find themselves in a qualifying position once the continental tournaments were decided.

Japan struggles to score goals against the better teams as evidenced by their four goals in six games in Antwerp following their big win over France. Akane Shibata might be their best offensive threat when the tournament opens, and Akiko Kato can also fin the back of the net when given the opportunity. Outside of those two players, there aren't a lot of other women on this squad who have made a mark on the international stage.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: As stated above, Japan will struggle to score against the heavyweights in the tournament. Japan's defensive game is fairly decent and they should hold their own against some of the teams, but winning any medal might be a pipe dream for this young team. That being said, Japan has improved and will look to finish better than ninth-place as they did in London in 2012.

Men's #12 - Ireland

QUALIFIED: 2014-15 Men's FIH World League Semi-Finals (5th-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Green, white.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: None.

LONDON OLYMPICS: Did not participate.

Ireland qualified as the fifth-place team at the Antwerp FIH World League Semi-Finals and claimed one of three available spots. Australia won the tournament, but claimed the continental qualifier position by winning the 2015 Oceanic Cup. Belgium, finishing second, claimed a Rio qualifying spot. Great Britain finished in third-place and claimed the second qualifying spot. The fourth-place team, India, had already won the 2014 Asian Games and qualified there, so the next best team took the qualifying spot, and that team was Ireland.

Ireland's inclusion into the Rio Games may confuse people since Great Britain already has a team that consists of the majority of the British Isles. Players from Northern Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland only play as Great Britain in the Olympics or Olympic qualifying tournaments, so Ireland has somewhat been on its own for some time. In 1992, the Irish Hockey Union decided to enter a team into Olympic qualifying tournaments for the fist time, ensuring that they would remain a sovereign nation when it came to the "Great Britain" squad.

Ireland's only play at the Olympics came in 1908 when they won the silver medal in field hockey. In 2008, it appeared that the Irish squad was in line for a spot at the Beijing Olympics, but they missed out after goal differential resulted in Argentina and New Zealand claiming two of three qualifying spots. A loss to France in the third-place game meant Ireland would not be playing in Beijing. They again just missed out in 2012 for London's Olympic Games, but they have qualified for Rio and will be looking to make an impact there.

In Antwerp, Ireland had a decent preliminary round as they tied Great Britain 2-2, fell 4-2 to Malyasia, beat China 6-0, and fell to Belgium 2-1. Australia dropped a 4-1 decision on Ireland in the quarterfinals, but they rallied back with a 1-0 win over Pakistan before claiming fifth-place in the tournament with a 4-1 win over Malaysia.

Ireland can score and certainly looks like a hungry team when it comes to goals. Shane O'Donoghue, Peter Caruth, Alan Sothern, and Kyle Good all had excellent tournaments in Antwerp, and they'll be relied upon when it comes to scoring in Rio. Goaltender David Harte was named as the Goalkeeper of the Tournament in Antwerp, but that's only the tip of the iceberg for Harte. He won the FIH goalkeeper of the year award in 2015, and was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship. Harte could be the difference if Ireland makes a run in the medal round.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: Ireland will be in tough against some of the better teams, but I might pick them as my darkhorse in Rio. They should scare a few good teams who take them lightly as they are very well-organized team that can score, but they won't surprise everyone they meet. I'd love to see the Irish squad medal, but if they can make it into the semi-finals, they'll have exceeded all expectations.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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