Women's #4 - New Zealand
TEAM COLOURS: Black, light blue, white.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: None.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 4th-place.
New Zealand earned a spot at the 2015 FIH World League Semi-Finals in Antwerp, Belgium by finishing in one of the top-four spots at the tournament. In the preliminary round, they kicked things off by thrashing Poland 12-0, downing India 5-0, shutting out rival Australia 2-0, and shutting out host Belgium by a 2-0 score as well. This set them up in the quarterfinals with Japan who they handled easily in a 5-1 victory. However, they would run into an upstart South Korean team who downed New Zealand in a penalty shootout, sending them to the bronze-medal match against Australia. The Aussies would have their revenge as well, downing the Kiwis by a 4-2 score to take the bronze medal. However, by finishing as one of the top-four teams in the tournament, New Zealand guaranteed themselves a trip to Rio for the Olympics!
The team also competed in the Oceania Cup in August 2015, but it's really just a two-team tournament. Samoa was the only other team entered in the event, and they lost both games to Australia and New Zealand by a combined 56-0 score. The final saw Australia and New Zealand play to a 1-1 draw, so penalty shots would be needed. Australia would score on their third and fourth shots while New Zealand could only manage a goal on its fourth shot from Charlotte Harrison, and Australia would claim the continental qualifying spot for Rio.
New Zealand comes to Rio with a solid scoring contingent. Gemma Flynn was second in goals at the FIH Semi-Finals tournament, and has proven to be a strong finisher for the Kiwis. Anita Punt, Kirsten Pearce, and Olivia Merry are dangerous strikers as well, and the New Zealand squad saw ten women register goals at the FIH Semi-Finals. Add in a world-class goaltender in Sally Rutherford who was named Goaltender of the Tournament in Antwerp, and this New Zealand team is a strong contender for a podium finish with their balanced attack and solid defence.
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: New Zealand has the skill and talent to beat any team in Rio, but the question will be if they can put it all together for a two-week tournament. They have wins over India and Japan - two Olympic teams - but they have a win, a loss, a penalty shot loss, and a tie against Australia as well as a penalty shot loss to South Korea in qualifying tournaments. They have yet to see Germany or the Netherlands, who are in their pool in Rio, and they'll need to be weary of South Korea as well. New Zealand brings a lot to the table, but I have a feeling that a finish higher than fourth-place won't be in the cards for them. In fact, I see them finishing as low as sixth-place in Rio.
Men's #4 - Great Britain
TEAM COLOURS: White, red, blue.
OLYMPIC MEDALS: Gold - 1920; silver - 1948; bronze - 1952; bronze - 1984; gold - 1988.
LONDON OLYMPICS: 4th-place.
Just like the women's team heading to Rio, Great Britain features players from England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland at international events. The FIH rankings show England at #4, Scotland at #27, and Northern Ireland and Wales outside the top-35 in the world. Because England makes up the majority of the team, they assume England's ranking and take the top players from the other countries that make up the team. In short, Great Britain is supposed to be a British Isles all-star squad featuring the best players from these countries. However, you'll see below that this isn't the case.
Great Britain qualified for the Rio Olympics by grabbing one of the three spots available at the FIH Semi-Finals in Antwerp, Belgium. They fared well in the preliminary round as they tied Belgium 2-2, tied Ireland 2-2, hammered China 8-1, and beat Malaysia 3-1. They battled to a 2-1 win over Pakistan in the quarterfinals before falling to Australia 3-1 in the semifinals. In the bronze medal game, Great Britain brought home some hardware as they defeated India by a 5-1 count. Thanks to their top-three finish at the tournament, Great Britain claimed a spot in the Rio Olympics!
Great Britain's roster for the Olympics will feature all English-born players. None of Northern Ireland, Wales, or Scotland will be represented on the pitch when Great Britain takes to the field. It's a team that is starting to age as well with the average age close to 28 years-old. In saying that, the English team that is basically the same as the Olympic roster stumbled at the EuroHockey Nations Championship. They started the preliminary round with a 10-1 drubbing of Russia, lost 2-0 to the Netherlands, and downed Spain by a 4-0 score. The semifinals saw them lose to Germany in a penalty shootout before dropping the bronze-medal game to Ireland by a 4-2 score. While they had already qualified for Rio, they didn't impress anyone by dropping the game to Ireland after having battled third-ranked Germany to the penalty shootout.
Great Britain has a very balanced attack as it gets scoring from all over the pitch. Six players had three-or-more goals at the FIH Semi-Finals, and 12 players had goals in the two tournaments. Midfielder Ashley Jackson is an excellent striker while forward Ali Brogdon led the team in scoring at the FIH Semi-Finals. Captain Barry Middleton, midfielders Nick Catlin and David Condon, and veteran forward Mark Gleghorne will carry the scoring load for this team in Rio. Surprisingly, 25 year-old forward Chris Griffiths was left off this team despite scoring five goals at the two tournaments. Will leaving the youth behind in exchange for experience be a mistake?
OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: If Great Britain is going to medal, they need to control the game from start to finish. They can't get into a track-meet style of game with some of the fitter teams, and they'll win if their defence is strong. They can score as shown above, but they need to really bear down on the defensive side of the field and prevent scoring chances. While there's a chance to finish on the podium, this team leaves one wanting more from their efforts on the pitch. That may cost them in Rio.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!