Women's #1 - Netherlands
TEAM COLOURS: Orange, white, blue.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: Gold - 1984; bronze - 1988; bronze - 1996; bronze - 2000; silver - 2004; gold - 2008; gold - 2012.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 1st-place.
The Netherlands qualified for the Rio Olympics by winning the FIH Semi-Finals tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. To be honest, the Netherlands owned this tournament. In the preliminary round, the Dutch destroyed France 11-0, beat South Korea 2-1, shutout Japan 4-0, and pummeled Italy 9-0. This set them up for a quarterfinals match with India who they thrashed by a 7-0 score. They then met third-ranked Australia in the semifinals and easily dispatched the Hockeyroos by a 5-1 score. The Dutch would find themselves in a rematch with South Korea in the final, and the final result would be the same as the Dutch won by a 2-1 score for a gold medal and capturing a Rio Olympic qualification spot!
The Dutch women also took part in the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship where it was expected that they would win the European continental qualifier position, and things looked good after the preliminary round where they hammered Poland 9-0, thumped Spain 8-1, and downed Belgium 5-0. In winning their pool, they advanced to the semifinals where they met Germany who put up quite a fight, but eventually fell to the Netherlands by a 1-0 score. In the final, they met the English squad, and these two teams battled to a 2-2 draw through regulation time. In the penalty shootout, the game was decided by a 3-1 score as the English found the back of the net three times to down the Netherlands. Despite the loss, the Netherlands would be going to Rio thanks to their performance at the FIH Semi-Finals!
The Netherlands are lethal in the offensive zone. They had 15 players record goals in the two tournaments, and three players scored six-or-more goals at the FIH Semi-Finals. Maartje Paumen recorded 12 goals at the two tournaments, and Caia van Maasakker had eleven goals on her own. Add in the performances of Lidewij Welten, Ellen Hoog, and Kelly Jonker, and you have yourself another 21 goals scored in the two tournaments. Joyce Sombroek is one of the best young goalkeepers in the world at age 25, and she already has over 100 caps to her credit. The Dutch defensive scheme is incredibly stingy as well, so expect to see the Netherlands' players at the top or near the scoring list and on the podium.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: Anything less than gold for this star-studded squad will be disappointing. The have the best and deepest offensive attack at this competition, and they play defence with as much enthusiasm as they do when scoring goals. The end result is that the Netherlands are the team to beat going into Rio, and I suspect that they relish that fact. They will definitely medal at the Rio Olympics, but the only question is what color of medal they will have when they return home.
Men's #1 - Australia
TEAM COLOURS: Yellow, green.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: Bronze - 1964; silver - 1968; silver - 1976; bronze - 1996; bronze - 2000; gold - 2004; bronze - 2008; bronze - 2012.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 3rd-place.
The Kookaburras participated at at the FIH Semi-Finals tournament in Antwerp, Belgium where they had a very successful tournament. The preliminary round saw Australia destroy France 10-0, down Pakistan 6-1, shutout Poland 4-0, and defeat India 6-2. They met Ireland in the quarterfinals and had little trouble in dispatching them by a 4-1 score. Australia ran up against Great Britain in the semifinals, but advanced to the final with a 3-1 victory. In the final, the Kookaburras needed extra time, but finally scored the 1-0 winner over Belgium to claim a spot in Rio as one of the three qualifying teams from Antwerp.
With a ticket to Rio already booked for Australia, they entered the Oceania Cup with an eye on the continental qualifier spot. There were four teams in the Oceania Cup, but there were really only two teams who had any chance of heading to Rio. Australia scored 56 goals against Fiji, Samoa, and New Zealand with New Zealand's score being the only respectable result in a 3-1 victory over the Kiwis. These two teams would easily reach the final, and Australia would jump out to a 2-0 lead just six minutes into the game. New Zealand would battle back with a goal, but the Kookaburras would win the game and claim the automatic continental qualifier position with a 3-2 victory.
I'm throwing out the ridiculous scores at the Oceania Cup, so we'll focus on the FIH Semi-Finals stats where the Australians were excellent. They saw eleven players score goals, and six of those eleven had three-or-more goals in the tournament. Blake Govers led the tournament in goal-scoring with seven markers and also received the Young Player of the Tournament award thanks to his impressive showing. Older brother Kieran Govers, Jamie Dwyer, Jake Whetton, and Chris Ciriello all had four goals, so you know this Australian attack will be lethal.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: The Australians will medal. Again, the color has yet to be determined, but their offence is incredible, their defence is sound, and their goalkeeping is top-notch. They won both major tournaments, turning aside Olympic qualifiers and national teams with ease, but they can be upset if a team can attack them in transition. It won't be easy, but the Australians should capture the gold medal in Rio if they play up to their potential over the next two weeks.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!