Hockey Headlines

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Field - Lucky Number Seven

Welcome to August, and that means the Rio Olympic field hockey event starts on Saturday! We've taken a look over the last week at the six teams ranked lowest by the FIH, and now we'll get into the serious medal contenders as the top teams on the planet are examined. These are teams with a history of medals in all competitions and certainly have the talent to compete with any of the teams headed to Rio. Games between these next six teams are often fast-paced, well-executed, and low-scoring thanks to the talent and systems each has. The top seeds for both the men's and women's tournaments will run next Sunday, one day after the tournament opens, but I'm hoping you'll already be tuning into the Olympics to catch the field hockey event among the other high-profile events. That being said, let's get on with this examination!

Women's #6 - China

QUALIFIED: 2015 FIH Women's World League Semi-Finals (2nd-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Red, white, black.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Silver - 2008.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 6th-place.

China grabbed one of the four qualifying spots in Valencia, Spain at the FIH Women's World League Semi-Finals by finishing in the top-four. The preliminary round didn't bode well for China. They started off with a 3-0 win over Canada, but dropped a 1-0 game to Spain, a 3-0 decision to Argentina, and a 2-0 loss to Great Britain - all Olympic qualifiers. However, they would defeat Ireland in a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals, and then got some revenge over Argentina with a 2-1 win in the semifinals to set them up for a rematch with Great Britain. While they would fall to Great Britain by a 2-0 score, they did what they came to do in qualifying for Rio.

China fell just short at the 2014 Asian Games, finishing second-place to South Korea. They did record wins over India and Japan - both Olympic qualifiers - so this Chinese squad has shown that they can rise to the occasion. However, the losses to Great Britain and South Korea, two teams lower in the FIH rankings, in the finals of major tournaments also show that this team may not have the killer instinct needed to win the big tournament just yet.

China is definitely a defence-first team. In the two tournaments above, they had a total of nine scorers, but Wang Mengyu was the top scorer by a wide margin. In fact, they scored just five goals in the FIH Semi-Finals tournament despite finishing in second-place, so they're definitely going to be challenged to score if they fall behind in any games in Rio. They play a very structured game which bodes well for their defensive prowess, but scoring goals seems to come off the stick of one player only. The only other player to score in both tournaments outside of Wang Mengyu was Peng Yang who had one goal in each competition. That's not going to be good enough on the Olympic stage.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: China relies heavily on its defensive game, as stated above, so they'll need to jump out to a lead in most games. In saying that, they can't sit back and just play defence in a tournament like the Olympics. China will find itself in trouble if it runs into a team that can score goals and defend as well as they can, so they have to find secondary scoring outside of their one accurate striker. China is good enough to hold off the teams below them, but they may find themselves in a similar finishing spot as they did in London.

Men's #6 - Belgium

QUALIFIED: 2015 FIH Men's World League Semi-Finals (2nd-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Red, white, yellow.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Bronze - 1920.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 5th-place.

Belgium qualified for the Rio Olympics by finishing second-place and in one of the three qualifying spots at the FIH Semi-Finals tournament in Antwerp, Belgium. In the preliminary round, they tied Great Britain 2-2, downed China by a 6-0 score, beat Malaysia 2-0, and beat Ireland 2-1 with a late goal. The quarterfinals saw France put a scare into Belgium with a 5-4 game, but the bounced back in the semifinals with a convincing 4-0 win over India. The finals matched them up against Australia, and the Australians would prevail in a tightly-played 1-0 match. Regardless of the match's outcome, the semifinal victory ensured that Belgium would be booking tickets to Rio de Janiero.

Belgium also competed at the EuroHockey Nations Cup, but things weren't as exciting there. The preliminary round saw Belgium drop a 4-0 decision to Germany, win 4-3 over France, and tie Ireland 2-2. Their poor showing led them to the consolation side where the best they could finish was fifth-place. In this round, Belgium downed Spain 3-0 and pounded Russia 11-4 while their win over France was counted from the preliminary round. Belgium finished in fifth-place at this tournament.

Belgium has one of the most balanced attacks coming into the Rio Olympics. In the two tournaments, Belgium saw fifteen players find the back of the net, and there were a few players who stood out for their performances. John-John Dohman scored three goals at the FIH Semi-Finals, but was named as the Player of the Tournament for his efforts on both sides of the field. Tom Boon racked up ten goals at the EuroHockey tournament, but seven(!) of those goals came against Russia. Amaury Keusters, Florent van Aubel, and S├ębastien Dockier are also excellent scorers, so expect Belgium to be able to find the net when needed.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: If this Olympic tournament is similar to the FIH Semi-Finals, you have to be happy with Belgium's outlook. However, the EuroHockey tournament saw Belgium shutout by third-ranked Germany and 12th-ranked Ireland - both Olympic qualifiers. While they handled fifth-ranked India at the FIH Semi-Finals with ease, they have struggled in two games against 17th-ranked France. Scoring goals isn't a problem for this squad, so one must consider the other side of the coin and point to the defence as being more of an issue. Belgium will need to be much better defensively if they hope to finish higher than fifth-place in Rio, especially when there are three other top-eight FIH teams in their pool in Rio.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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