Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Field - Part XI

With the opening ceremonies having gone off without any major glitches last night, the Rio Olympic Games are officially underway. As an aside, did anyone find it a little hypocritical that Brazil was touting the planting of seeds for native species of plants by the athletes while they have systematically clear-cut rainforests in the past? Anyway, the ceremonies looked artistically impressive, but we focus on today as the field hockey event gets underway. We have four teams left - two teams on both the men's and women's sides - and we'll cover those off on this weekend. Following that, I'll have updates next week in among the ice hockey stories, so stay tuned for that! Let's get going on these last four teams!

Women's #2 - Argentina

QUALIFIED: 2015 FIH World League Semi-Finals (4th-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Light blue, white, black, blue.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Silver - 2000; bronze - 2004; bronze - 2008; silver - 2012.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 2nd-place.

Argentina grabbed a qualifying spot at the FIH Semi-Finals in Valencia, Spain. The preliminary round for Argentina went fairly well. They downed Canada 6-0, lost to Great Britain 2-0, beat China 3-0, and tied Spain 2-2. This set the Lionesses up for a quarterfinals match with the USA, and Argentina would advance via a 3-0 result. They met with China in the semifinals, but the Chinese upset the Lionesses with a 2-1 win. This pushed Argentina into the bronze-medal match where they would fall to Germany in penalty shots, but they did claim fourth-place which gave them one of the four qualifying spots for the Rio Olympic Games!

The Lionesses also participated in the 2015 Pan-American Games, and they had a pretty good run there. In the preliminary round, they hammered Mexico 9-0, shutout Canada 5-0, and pummeled the Dominican Republic 12-0 to finish first in their pool. They crushed Cuba 10-0 in the quarterfinals, downed Cuba 5-0 in the semifinals, and met the Americans in the final. They were outplayed from the start and scored a late goal, but it wasn't enough as the Americans won the Pan-American Games 2-1. While they were denied a continental qualifier's spot, Argentina was still heading to Rio!

The Lionesses are stacked all over the field and feature a number of high-scoring players. Captain Carla Rebecchi led the FIH Semi-Finals in scoring with five goals, and defender Noel Barrionuevo lit up the Pan-American Games with eight goals. Defender Florencia Habif, forward Agustina Albertario, and forward Delfina Merino are also accomplished goal-scorers, and the Argentinians showed balanced scoring from all areas of the pitch with 12 scorers in the two tournaments. Goalkeeper Belén Succi has 166 caps to her name, and she is the backbone of a stifling Argentinian defence.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: It's hard to handicap the second-ranked team in the world, but Argentina has fallen to teams in two recent international tournaments that, on paper, they should have defeated. They fell to China, Germany, and the United States - all lower-ranked teams - in the medal rounds of the two major qualifying tournaments, so there is some concern. The fact that they competed for gold and bronze medals, though, show that they have the mettle to get to the medal games. Argentina will find itself in tough, but if they can score just enough and hold off the opposition just enough, the Lionesses should find themselves on one of the podium spots just as they have in their last four Olympic tournaments.

Men's #2 - Netherlands

QUALIFIED: 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship (1st-place).

TEAM COLOURS: Orange, white, light blue.

OLYMPIC MEDALS: Silver - 1928; bronze - 1936; bronze - 1948; silver - 1952; bronze - 1988; gold - 1996; gold - 2000; silver - 2004; silver - 2012.

LONDON OLYMPICS: 2nd-place.

The Netherlands knew they were going to Rio sine mid-2015 after qualifying at the FIH Semi-Finals in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the preliminary round, the Dutch beat Egypt 4-0, downed South Korea 6-2, tied New Zealand 1-1, and beat Japan 3-1. This set them up for a quarterfinals match with Spain who they defeated 3-1 to advance. However, they ran into a plucky German team who would not be denied as the Netherlands fell 2-1. This would push them to the bronze-medal game where they would hammer Canada 6-0 to earn one of the four qualifying spots at the FIH Semi-Finals tournament.

The Dutch also entered the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship, and they did pretty well. The preliminary round saw the Oranje down Spain 2-0, beat England 2-0, and crushed Russia 8-0. by winning their pool, this sent the Dutch to the semifinals for a date with Ireland who played a spirited game, but eventually fell to the Dutch 1-0. In the final, the Netherlands really flexed their muscle with a decisive 6-1 over Germany to claim the European continental qualifying spot as an automatic qualifier for the Rio Olympics!

The Dutch feature a well-balanced scoring attack that has a number of weapons. Mink van der Weeden led his team at both tournaments with five goals at each, but Jeroen Hertzberger scored five at the Euro Hockey tournament and eight overall in both tournaments. Billy Bakker and Constantijn Jonker should be two other names to keep an eye on as they had success at both tournaments when it came to finding the back of the net as well. Jaap Stockmann has repeatedly shown he is one of the world's best goalkeepers, and he plays behind one of the world's best defensive teams.

OLYMPIC OUTLOOK: The Netherlands come into these Olympic Games as one of the best teams on the planet. They were the runner-ups in London, and they haven't taken a step back. While there were was a loss to Germany at the FIH Semi-Finals, the Netherlands redeemed themselves with a crushing defeat of the Germans a month later, so don't think that the Netherlands will come into this tournament without focus. While they stood as the silver medalists in London, expect the Dutch to compete for gold in Rio again behind their excellent team game.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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