Olympic Team Prospects
A look at the Women's teams leading into the Olympics
A look at the Men's teams leading into the Olympics
FIH Men’s Pro League Summary
So, about 1/3 of the way into the Pro League – How is each team looking and who’s going to win it!
They have genuine talent in the forward line with the likes of Vila and young star Casella. They also have a great deal of experience at the back and an outstanding flicker in Tolini. However, the midfield is not shutting down the opposition, nor are they transferring into attack. The raw materials are there, but the side is not quite firing.
After an uncharacteristic start to the Pro League the Kookaburras have started to perform. The Centre backs have given away far too much ball in dangerous areas and the short corner attack has looked below par. Having said that, there is quality throughout the side and the young forward line is starting to fire. Maybe a mixed start was the wake-up call the Aussies needed?
Belgium look real class through every line of the pitch and they know that when they play. The Red Lions move the ball about with real confidence and patience. After their loss in India it is clear that they must focus on converting their chances, both from penalty corner and open play. They are still my tip for the title!
We haven’t seen a great deal from the Germans yet this season, but they have showed a plethora different guises. They can be compact when under pressure and ruthless in front of goal. However they have created fewer chances than they would like and certainly not earned the number of penalty corners that they would hope. Hard to tell at the moment, but I don’t think they’ll threaten the top 3.
GB have played some really strong hockey and showed the ability to play the game at varied speed. The re-introduction of Ashley Jackson has given more creativity to the midfield and resulted in more chances. Marking at the back must be an area of concern for Britain. If they can fix these defensive frailties then there is a side who can beat the best.
India have had a fantastic start to this Pro League season, really justifying their inclusion. They have played the top sides and have earned comfortable wins, draws and only suffered narrow defeats. The Bharat Army have showed great skill and pace as well as having the weapon that is Rupinder Singh looking deadly at penalty corners. How the Indian side travels will be a big factor in their final standing.
Despite sitting 2nd in the table, we are yet to see the best of the Netherlands. They have drawn 3 games, but are looking good in the shoot-outs! There is no doubting the skill and individual quality running throughout this Dutch side. Can they coherently work as unit and make the most of their circle penetrations. If Jip Janssen flicks like he can, then they should!
The Kiwis have fought hard this campaign and produced some good results. They show a real fight as a team and rarely look out of it. They do need to improve the quality of first touch and remove unforced errors from the game. The defence can be unlocked by genuine pace and they rely heavily on McAleese to distribute. It could be some tough months of the road for the Black Sticks..
The Spaniards have played with their traditional flair passion and thus far in the tournament and earned a notable result away in Argentina. There is no doubting than there is ability on the Spanish side, but strength in depth could well be an issue. They have played some top sides, but have a tricky run of fixtures up the end of the tournament. They could be fighting it out with the kiwis at the foot of the table.
Here’s an example of what Janssen can do from a penalty corner!
New Zealand vs Argentina (Men) Match 1
Uncertainty dominated the build up to this game, with both sides missing key players, and it began as a fairly cagey affair until the 5th minute….
New Zealand put pressure on and sling the ball into D from the left shoulder which is deflected towards the end-line. There, it’s picked up by Sam Lane with a great backhand touch bringing it away from the defender towards the penalty spot where he hammers it past Vivaldi in the Argentinian goal. 1-0 New Zealand
Then a swift counter attack by Argentina with crisp early passing to the 25. Casella on the penalty spot leading towards the ball, dropped his left shoulder, let the ball run across him, beating the defender all ends up and fired the ball reverse stick through the legs of Hayward into the New Zealand net. Great use of the body from young Casella. 1-1
Towards the end of the quarter New Zealand come back with goal scorer Lane feeding to Smith on right hand end line who drives strong through a sea of stick tackles to win the short corner. The kiwis without Kane Russell go to Lane flicks who flicks low right, met by a good save from veteran Vivaldi.
Smith starts to get into dangerous positions and picks up the ball in the 25. He drives into the D, once again and is body checked by Tolini, who takes a 2 minute seat for his troubles, penalty corner to the Black Sticks. It’s pulled out to Corey Bennett on the 2nd castle who flicks harmlessly over the bar.
4 minutes in and talisman McAleese is robbed on the half way, the ball played up to Vila on the 25, but Dane Lett intercepts his pass. The defender is also dispossessed and the ball falls to Child who diving sweeps the ball away but only as far as Vila who calmly finds the foot of Rowsell. Penalty Corner to Los Leones. A poor drag out results in Ortiz moving the ball onto his weak side and striking a reverse stick shot into the bottom corner – goal correctly disallowed for a back stick from Ortiz.
In the final minute of the half, with Argentina defending, Fernandez brings ball out at pace up to half way, plays inside to Ferreiro who beats one with a delightful left to right and delivers a perfect under the arm through ball to the striker who slips on the shot, but the ball falls to Casella who flicks it up and upright reverse half-volleys. The ball crashing into the post and rebounding onto a New Zealand foot. Penalty corner to South Americans. Goal keeper Hayward knew nothing about that shot and you can see why there is so much hype around youngster Casella – what a player. The corner is dragged out to Tolini on the right castle, but is charged down by the number 1 runner.
Early on in the 3rd quarter and Argentina are on the attack through Bugallo. On edge of the opponents D he puts the ball into defenders leg and moves to take the quick free hit, but it’s controversially given the other way for back stick. Instead New Zealand take it quickly to Thomas on the half way who carries forward at pace and roles in Smith on 25. He again drives strong to the baseline and cuts the ball back towards the penalty Spot where Thomas has continued his run and skilfully guides the ball first time into the bottom corner, a stunning breakaway goal. Argentina ask to refer the original decision but cannot as the 1st decision was not for a Penalty corner. Perhaps an umpiring error there. 2-1 New Zealand
2 minutes later Argentina have a free hit in the Kiwi’s bottom right hand corner. Lopez crosses with his reverse stick, Ferreiro picks up and wobbles into D riding several stick tackles. Penalty corner Argentina. That cross looked to have a little more than a hint of back stick in it, maybe another error from the officials. The ball is pulled out to Tolini on the first castle who rifles his flick into the bottom left hand corner. Nothing the keeper could do and parity restored. 2-2
With 5 minutes to go in 3rd quarter The Lions play a hopeful ball forward which is miscontrolled onto his own foot by Sarikaya. An Argentina penalty corner and exactly the sort of mistake that neither team can afford to make. The ball goes to Tolini on the 1st castle, he fires a bullet flick towards the top left corner drawing an incredible flying stick save by Hayward.
Only 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter and distributor in chief McAleese has ball on half way, he throws a diagonal aerial to Lett on the left hand side of the Argentina baseline. The defender Ferreiro encroaches 5, and a penalty corner is awarded to the Black Sticks. Outstanding vision from McAleese. The corner is dragged out to Lane on the 2nd castle but is lifted into the No. 1 runner
In the final seconds of 3rd quarter Lopez launches a through ball to Ferreiro, who is unmarked on the penalty spot, he hits a reverse stick shot straight at the goal keeper. A good save by Hayward, but really the striker should have done much better there!
At the start of 4th quarter NZ work ball patiently round the back and sweetly move it to Smith on the left hand baseline. He dribbles past 2 defenders using great 3D skills, but loses control and the ball falls into space. Panchia dives and slaps the loose ball towards the bottom right hand corner of the goal, but his connection is not clean and Vivaldi dives to save with his stick, but the prone goal keeper can only stop the ball after it has rolled over the line. 3-2 New Zealand.
Now behind, Argentina increase the pressure and throw the ball to danger man Vila on the right edge of the circle where he crosses reverse stick cross which deflects onto a defender’s foot. Penalty corner Argentina. It’s dragged to Tolini on the 1st castle, his effort is charged down, but off the runner’s foot, so another corner is awarded. No prizes for guessing where this one’s going! Tolini absolutely launches a flick over the head of Hayward into the roof of the net 3-3. Peillat’s replacement Tolini looks the real deal off the set pieces.
Into final 10 minutes and New Zealand comfortably move ball to Newman who picks it up traveling away from goal on the edge of the D. Ibarra channelling the forward attempts a rash and unnecessary reach around tackle, resulting in a penalty corner. A rare lack of concentration from the experienced campaigner. It’s dragged out to Bennett on 2nd castle and his flick comes up off the no. 1 runner’s stick dangerously, penalty corner given. It goes to Bennett again, he flicks low right and draws a good left kicker save from Vivaldi, but it goes dangerously high into the crowded D, another penalty corner. This time to Bennett on the 1st castle, he flicks backboard height to Vivaldi’s right who gets a glove to it, but the ball gently rebounds onto the crossbar and in. The keeper will be disappointed. 4-3 NZ.
Argentina pressing high steal the ball of New Zealand in their own 25 with Domene who squares to Ferreiro. He crunches a shot at the top left corner which is met by a wonderful diving glove save from the kiwi keeper, followed by a great right kicker from a reverse stick effort on the rebound.
Argentina are playing a very high line and space is opening up for the Kiwis. They have the ball with Brydon moving through the opposition half. He plays a slightly hopeful ball into the D which deflects off an Argentinian stick and falls to Dom Newman who slaps the ball over the diving Vivaldi. 5-3 New Zealand
In response Los Leones push forward quickly driving down the right and cut back to Ferreiro who calmly spins the ball onto the boot of Brydon and Tolini lines up for another corner. The pull out is a little right and the castle has to shift, the flick comes off the shoe of the no 1 runner. Re-take. This time pulled to Casella on 2nd castle, but stopped inside circle, in their efforts to get the ball out of the D they manage to find a New Zealand foot. 3rd penalty corner in a row, but neither of the others were executed. It goes to the 2nd castle to Casella again, he flicks low right, but it’s cleared away skilfully by the post man.
In the final throws of the game Argentina are piling on the pressure, and have another effort saved by Hayward, but it’s cleared deliberately of the backline by Brydon. Penalty corner. Ferreiro skews his drag out and The Lions once again have to take the ball out of the circle and then manage a shot to win a long corner. Yet another example of poor execution of the basics on penalty corners from the South Americans. Lopez drives the right hand baseline and slides it back onto the foot of McAleese. Penalty corner. Pulled out to Casella on the 1st castle and he flings it wide of the right hand upright. I suspect Tolini would have wanted that one.
A match that could have gone either way. Argentina created more chances and had the balance of the play. The South Americans will be disappointed with their finishing and must improve the accuracy of penalty corner basics. Hayward in the New Zealand goal was superb and they made the most of all their chances. McAleese controlled the game well and his distribution was strong. Mom goes to Hayward, the former Australian Goalie who made several phenomenal saves.
New Zealand: Lane, Thomas, Panchia, Bennett, Newman
Argentina: Casella, Tolini (2)
England Hockey League Restructure
England Hockey’s proposed league restructure makes a lot of sense on several levels. Bringing the 2nd teams of larger clubs into the vertical league structure should increase the quality of hockey across the country. Rather than having excellent players hiding away in parallel leagues, such as the London League.
This will also allow for better funding at higher levels of the game as larger clubs will attract more players, more money and potentially more overseas players. Small nations like Scotland have seen an exodus of many of their top players to bigger leagues, thus strengthening those. This has, however, had a detrimental impact on the quality of hockey in smaller nations, and indeed could do the same to smaller clubs. A lot of players who played for smaller clubs 1st teams rather than in the 2nds or 3rds for larger clubs due to the drop in standard between the 1st and 2nd team leagues, will now stay with the larger clubs. So the changes should help the overall standard of hockey in England, but may well harm the smaller clubs around the country. They will have fewer players, therefore receive less money in subs and the running costs will become higher. This may then raise the cost of playing for the smaller clubs and thus drive more players away. It is important that England Hockey have considered the impact this may have. Not all clubs exist to feed to players to the international setup, but are vital parts of the community. Small clubs currently allow players of all standards to play competitive hockey for a reasonable price in their local community. This is one of the great strengths of the game in England.
In terms of the separation of the leagues regionally, this seems a very sensible move, as it means players who are not at the highest echelons of the game should not have to travel as far for their hockey. Aside from the odd administrational error of which region teams have been put in, it seems largely practical. There are teams on the borders of the new regions who will have to travel far further than previously. Take Reading 3rd and 4th team or Sonning 1st team in the Men’s South Central area. They have very close home games against each other but for large number of their away games they will be travelling 90 minutes down to south coast to play teams like Fareham and Portsmouth, and obviously it is the same for those south coast teams on their away fixtures to Reading and Sonning. This increases the travel time a great deal for those teams, but if you look at the other side of the South Central region, travel times are cut for all of those teams.
The inclusion of a Greater London area must also be a good decision, although travel times across the capital can vary greatly. This will at least encourage the use of public transport for teams in those leagues. It also gratifying to see that in the lower leagues England Hockey may hand some ownership to the clubs, who could then divide the regions up even more to still provide hockey at the right level but with very short travel times.
PROS: Overall the principle of what England Hockey are trying to do is good and it will improve the level of hockey at the top end as well as cut travel times for most players.
CONS: Some players will be travelling considerably further for matches than they were before. There could be strain put on small community club
Copyright Rupert Barker 2020
Copyright Rupert Barker 2020