Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Field - Part Eight

We're down to the five best teams for both the men and the women who will be competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics for field hockey. Honestly, I should do more field hockey pieces because the sport is fascinating to watch, but I don't know of any games being played near HBIC Headquarters. I'd assume there are teams, but I've never once heard of anyone recruiting for the sport nor have I seen any games advertised. Regardless of Canada's seemingly low interest, these remaining teams are the pinnacle of their sport and should be near the top of the podium based on their skill levels. Here are the next two teams in the Rio field hockey tournament!

Women's #5 - USA

QUALIFIED: 2015 Pan-American Games (1st-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Red, blue, white.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Bronze - 1984.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 12th-place.

The American women really made some solid strides in improving their team, and this paid off with their continental qualification to Rio via winning the 2015 Pan-American Games. The American squad rolled over their competition in the preliminary round of the tournament, downing Uruguay 5-0, beating Chile 2-0, and ripping Cuba by a 12-0 score. The Americans absolutely demolished the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinals 15-0. They downed the Canadians in the semifinals by a 3-0 score. Finally, they captured the Pan-Am gold medal with a 2-1 victory over Argentina - their first goal surrendered in the entire tournament! This punched their ticket to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The American women also played in the FIH Semi-Finals tournament in Valencia, Spain prior to the Pan-Am Games, but they didn't find the same success as they did in the Pan-American tournament. USA started the preliminary round off with a 2-0 over Uruguay before downing South Africa by a 4-1 score. They tied Germany 2-2 in their third game, and finished off the preliminary round with a 2-0 loss to Ireland. In the quarterfinals, Argentina sent the Americans to the consolation side with a 3-0 defeat, but USA rallied back in the consolation semifinals by beating Ireland 6-1. With a fifth-place finish on the line, the Americans showed up to play again as they took the game to Spain and came away with the 3-1 win and a fifth-place finish. It was a good tournament to build off of in their quest for Pan-Am gold, and they certainly made that happen.

The Americans have a very balanced scoring attack with 14 different players recording goals in the two tournaments. Kelsey Kolojejchick led the way at the Pan-Am Games with seven goals, albeit four coming in that 15-0 drubbing of the Dominican Republic. Jill Wittmer, Katie O'Donnell, and Katie Reinprecht all recorded more than five goals combined at the two events, and there were 12 players in total with three or more goals. Clearly, the American goaltending and defence will be put to the test in Rio, but they looked impressive in Toronto during the Pan-Am Games. If Jackie Briggs can bring the same intensity to the net in Rio as she did in Toronto, the Americans could be in line for their second medal ever at an Olympic field hockey event.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: USA is has shown that it can play with the good teams as they've beaten second-ranked Argentina at the Pan-Am Games, tied ninth-ranked Germany at the FIH Semi-Finals, and beat Spain at the FIH Semi-Finals - all Olympic qualifiers. Their offence is definitely their strength, but they showed at the Pan-Am Games that they have solid defence and goaltending as well. They're going to have to be as consistent as they were in Toronto to have a shot at a medal, but there's no way they finish in 12th-place at this Olympiad. Medals might just be out of their reach, but they have the talent on both sides of the ball to bring home some hardware if they get that consistent effort throughout the tournament.

Men's #5 - India

QUALIFIED: 2014 Asian Games (1st-place).

TEAM COLOURS: White, light blue, saffron.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Gold - 1928; gold - 1932; gold - 1936; gold - 1948; gold - 1952; gold - 1956; silver - 1960; gold - 1964; bronze - 1968; bronze - 1972; gold - 1980.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 12th-place.

India qualified for the Rio Olympics by winning the Asian continental qualifying tournament in the 2014 Asian Games. India's preliminary round consisted of an 8-0 beating on Sri Lanka, a 7-0 whipping of Oman, a 2-1 loss to Pakistan, and a 2-0 win over China. The semifinals saw India prevail 1-0 over South Korea, and they needed a penalty shootout to take the gold medal at the tournament over Pakistan. With the victory, the Indian squad had their ticket confirmed to Rio!

The Indian squad also took part in the FIH Semi-Finals tournament in Antwerp, Belgium in 2015. The preliminary round saw India down France 3-2, shutout Poland 3-0, tie Pakistan 2-2, and lose to Australia 6-2. The quarterfinals pitted India against Malaysia, and India prevailed in a 3-2 victory. However, the semifinals saw India run into the hometown favorites in Belgium, and Belgium sent the Indian squad to the bronze medal match with a 4-0 victory. In the bronze medal game, Great Britain picked apart the Indian defence in a 5-1 victory.

This is a team that is built on Singhs. Eight of the 16 players have the last name of Singh, so be prepared for a lot of Singh-ing. All jokes aside, the Indian squad was led in the two tournaments by the goal-scoring prowess of Ramandeep Singh who nearly matched the scoring of the rest of his team in the two tournaments. VR Raghunath is another solid scoring threat, and the rest of the team chips in with goals as 14 players recorded goals in the two tournaments. However, it appears the Indian team will go young in Rio as only two players are 30 years old. The rest are younger with the majority between 20 and 25 years of age. Will this inexperience hurt India?

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: India's failures against Olympic qualifiers such as Belgium, Great Britain, and Australia point to a finish off the podium. While they certainly fared better against competition from the Asian Games, no other team from Asia qualified for the Olympics. While they have the history ating back to British India in terms of all the medals they have won, this Indian team simply isn't good enough to even be considered a medal threat. If they finish in 12th-place once again, that would be disappointing, but I feel this team will finish no higher than eighth-place.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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