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Olympic Team Prospects

A look at the Women's teams leading into the Olympics

Group B

The Argentinians’ pace and skill level is likely to be too much for many of the sides in the group and both antipodean teams would be fairly confident of qualification. In theory, Spain and China should be competing for the final spot. However, if Japan continue to press high and take advantage of home turf, then they could grab a quarter-final place and we could easily see an upset, perhaps involving the Australians?

Spain

Spain had a good showing in this year’s Euro Hockey Championships, finishing in 4th place. However, on their journey they did not manage to overcome any of the top sides, only recording one win (against Scotland) in the tournament. They are another side that is driven by a standout player, midfielder and captain, Georgina Oliva. She is the complete athlete combining outstanding ball pace, disguise, vision and accuracy in her distribution, with fantastic speed, skills and the ability to finish. Goalkeeper Maria Ruiz provides leadership and D control from the back and Spain form a compact defensive unit that is hard to break down. However, this results in sustained periods of pressure on the Spanish goal and they must improve their clearance off the pads and win more second ball in their circle. Can Oliva show her talent and drive her nation onto Olympic glory?

New Zealand

New Zealand have none of the goal-scoring worries of their antipodean counterparts, largely because they have Olivia Merry. Merry casts an imposing figure on the field and strikes fear into the hearts of defences across the globe. She is the archetypal finisher, who given even half a yard in the D will force a save or leave the goalkeeper scooping the ball out of the back of the net. Not only is she a weapon in open play, but also from penalty corners, tying Gorzelany for the most scored in the Pro League. Their talisman is fed by the captain, Stacey Michelson. The skipper has the ability to drift past players in the midfield with consummate ease and create 2 v 1 situations further up the pitch. However, The Black Sticks have to tighten up their marking at the back and allow opposition forwards far less time on the ball in their D. Can New Zealand shore up their defence or simply outscore every team they play against?

Japan

The hosts will no doubt find it a challenge to qualify from the group. However, the opposing sides should underestimate Japan at their peril. In 2018 The Sakura won every game in the Asia Cup, including victories against China and India. They also ran Argentina and The Netherlands close in their warm-up campaigns. The Japanese are likely to press relatively high and look to win the ball in the midfield. They bring a lot of experience and have been preparing together for some time due to their training setup. As a result, the team work incredibly well together and connect their leads between the lines accurately. Although they have no superstars as such and concentrate on strong teamwork, do look out for Hazuka Nagai scoring from the midfield. Can the organised hosts upset a top ten side and qualify for the knockouts?

China

China had the most curtailed FIH Pro League season, only playing two matches, both against the Dutch, both of which they lost. However, they overcame an ever-improving Belgian side in a shootout to qualify for Tokyo. In particular against higher-ranked opposition, The Snow Lotuses are likely to sit in a half-court press and absorb pressure. Going forward they will try to play through Peng Yang and when they reach the last 3rd will often crash balls into the D looking for deflections and rebounds. Experienced Li Dongxiao has got the nod between the posts for China and their fans will be hoping that her excellent shot-stopping of old is on display. To alleviate the pressure on Li, they must give away possession less often in the key areas of the pitch and stop allowing opponents to carry unopposed into their 3rd. Can the Chinese take more care of the ball and edge their way into the quarter-finals?

Australia

Australia have always been a difficult side to beat, playing a fast, physical and combative game. However, the Hockeyroos have not had a great deal of success of late. A disappointing FIH Pro League performance saw them win just 2 of their 8 matches. They had reached the final the year before and taken home silver medals from both the Commonwealth Games and the Champions Trophy. So is class permanent and form temporary? Only if Australia can create and convert more chances. Their forward line shares the spoils out relatively evenly, but there is no talisman converting regularly. They remain incredibly organised and very difficult to break down but must do more going forward. Will young Ambrosia Malone step up and become the striker that the Aussies have been looking for, or will the mantle continue to fall at the feet of Peris and Chalker? Can Australia find the goal scoring formula and return to the Olympic podium for the first time in 20 years?

Argentina

There was a fear that post-Aymar, Argentina would never reach the top of the game again. It is safe to say that those fears have been allayed. The raft of young Leonitas who grew up watching the great Lucha are now entering their prime. 22-year-old forward Julieta Jankunas is one of those, she has excellent skills and a rocket reverse stick strike. She combines upfront with the experienced Delfina Merino, who will be looking to net her 100th international goal during the tournament. Maria Jose Granatto will occasionally drop behind the front two from the forward line and act as a catalyst for the Argentine’s attacking moves, as well as finishing a few herself. At the back, captain, Noel Barrionuevo will shut down opposition advances with ease and look to propel Las Leonas forward down the flanks. She is joined in defence by fellow penalty corner specialist Agustina Gorzelany, creating a real threat from the set-piece. Argentina beat the Netherlands in the FIH Pro League, can they repeat that feat on the biggest stage of them all?

Group A

The Netherlands are certainties to qualify from the group and Germany are strong favourites to join them. After that, it will be down to each performance on the day. Although South Africa are unlikely to qualify, they could steal points from any of the other sides. Ireland have shown that they can perform on the big stage, Great Britain are not in great form and unusually India enter as a slightly unknown quantity. All the matches in this group will be worth watching, whether it is to admire the class of the Dutch or to see the rest battle it out for the other quarter-final places.

South Africa

Much like their male counterparts the South African women’s team are the lowest-ranked side in the tournament. Apart from a few exceptions the African’s are bringing an inexperienced team to Tokyo, including three debutants. They will play with great physicality and will not give any quarter in 50/50 challenges or when competing for loose ball. However, they must improve their accuracy across all areas of the pitch. Historically they have shown a tendency to allow forwards too much space in their circle and can become pulled out of shape when the midfield are eliminated. As a result, South Africa are likely to sit back and absorb pressure, then looking to hurt their opposition on the counter. However, for this tactic to work at the Olympic level they need to be more clinical in front of goal. Look out for Kristen Paton, who will provide the attacking platform from the midfield as well as Erin Hunter and Onthatile Zulu, who will relish taking on higher-ranked opposition. Can South Africa become more potent in front of goal and cause an upset to qualify from their pool?

Netherlands

Since Great Britain denied the Dutch gold in a penalty shootout at the 2016 Olympics, the Netherlands have totally dominated world hockey. The strength-in-depth of their squad is such that their reserve team would not look out-of-place in Tokyo. Over every line of the pitch, they have real quality and they move the ball with a pace and skill level that is a step above the other sides in this group. Caia Van Maasakker and Margot van Geffen govern the backline, spraying passes that NFL quarterback Tom Brady would be proud of. The midfield is led by the captain and two-time World Player of the Year, Eva de Goede. She provides the team with real attacking impetus and combines pace, skill, passing accuracy and a magnificent hockey brain to secure outcomes in the opposition half.  Matla and Welten spearhead the attack, both of whom demonstrate outstanding elimination skills and a striker’s instinct. Don’t be surprised to see these two top the scorers list alongside Maasakker, who generates exceptional power on her drag-flick. Will the Netherlands right the wrongs of 2016 and claim the Olympic title? There won’t be many people betting against it.

Ireland

Ireland have progressed a huge amount in recent years and having reached the World Cup final in 2018, look very much at home in the upper echelons of world hockey. They had a strong performance in the Euros, where they drew with Spain and defeated both Scotland and Italy. Their side is a true mix of youth and experience, combining the likes of Shirley McCay, who will be making her 312th capped performance and 19-year-old Sarah Mcauley, for whom it will only be her 2nd. Ayesha McFerran in the Irish net reads the game incredibly well and has an unmatched ability to get down quickly and save shots in all four corners of her goal. Elena (Lena) Tice is an athlete with undoubted sporting prowess. Not only does she have a Hockey World Cup silver medal, but she has also represented her nation on the cricket pitch. Tice will marshal the game from the back and dictate the channels of attack. Can the Green Army repeat their incredible feat from 2018 and take home an Olympic medal?

India

India have not had a great deal of success on the global stage of late and having not followed the men into the FIH Pro League, it is hard to find an accurate barometer of where they stand. In a similar fashion to the Germans, India have been through a rebuilding stage, and hence have no outfield players over the age of 30. They now have a side that has been together for a number of years and has been on a positive journey. 21-year-old Lalremsiami is the team’s up and coming star who, not only possesses exceptional ability in the final 3rd of the pitch but also has the grit and determination which sees her improving year on year. This strength of mind was typified in 2019 when she elected to play in the FIH Series semi-final, rather than attend the funeral of her recently deceased father. The experienced, yet youthful captain, Rani Rampaul will also cause a genuine threat for defenders across the board. If Rani and Lalremsiami have success then Gurjit Kaur is likely to be in the goals with her powerful drag-flicks. India are not highly ranked, but can they come out and surprise Europe’s powerhouses?

Great Britain

England had a disappointing European Championships, in which they failed to qualify from the group. Team GB will have to put this out of their mind as they enter the Olympic competition. Great Britain are capable of playing some excellent hockey, especially when they shift the ball quickly and get in behind opponents. However, in recent years they have made too many errors in all areas of the pitch, whether it’s miss-traps upfront, or turning the ball over in the midfield and defence. Lily Owsley is a phenomenal ball carrier and if GB go behind, don’t be surprised to see Owsley drop a little deeper in order to see more of the ball and start ghosting past opponents through the centre of the park. Britain’s other great weapon stands between the posts in the guise of former World Goalkeeper of the Year, Maddie Hinch. She is an outstanding shot-stopper and a real presence in the GB net. Can Hinch and Owsley carry the side through to repeat their success in Rio?

Germany

Off the back of a successful European Championships, the Germans will no doubt go into the Olympics filled with confidence. This success is the result of a rebuilding program that the side has gone through over the last couple of years. In the forward line, they have some real talent in the form of youngster Pia Maertens who combines with the dogged and powerful Charlotte StapenhorstFranzisca Hauke will maintain the family tradition and try to dominate the game from the midfield. Captain at just 24, Nike Lorenz is a crucial cog in this new German machine. She can carry the ball out of the back as well as tackle and distribute with ease. Die Danas have used some extravagant penalty corner routines in the past, but no matter whether there’s a triple transfer or a straight flick, look out for talisman Lorenz on the end of it. The side has improved a great deal and is now a genuine contender, but do they have the experience to bring home gold?

A look at the Men's teams leading into the Olympics

Group B

The top four sides in Europe will battle it out for the best quarter-final draw and there is really very little between them. Belgium has the highest ranking, the Dutch have the skills, the Germans have the forwards, and Britain are on the rise. All four teams have beaten each other in recent history, so it will come down to fine margins in every match. South Africa and Canada will struggle to qualify, but one upset could find them in the hunt.

South Africa

South Africa is the lowest-ranked side in the tournament but has had very tight fixtures with rivals Canada in recent major tournaments. Austin Smith and skipper Drummond both have excellent ball pace and will lead the distribution from the back, whilst the half-backs provide width and height. Smith is joined as a penalty corner threat by Matthew Guise-Brown, who can fire in absolute rockets from the top of the circle. Ntuli and Horne will look to link up quickly and catch defenders off guard around the D. The AmaStokkies look best when they cut the pitch on a three quarter press and pressurise opposition ball carriers deep in the midfield. On occasion against the bigger teams, they have been exposed by fast-paced passing and seem to struggle with runners in behind the defence. They will also have to be more accurate in attack and really use any ball that they gain in the final third of the pitch. South Africa will have to be very clinical and continue to grow as a unit, but can they upset one of the hockey giants in group B?

Netherlands

The Netherlands have unquestionable individual quality throughout their squad. In the past, they have perhaps overplayed the ball in the middle of the pitch and therefore been undone by more structured sides. However, in the European Championships, they managed to harness their distinct talents with some superb team performances, although it worth noting that both their victories in the knockouts were on penalties. The Dutch will play fast and attractive hockey, showcasing fantastic skill across all areas of the pitch. In particular, lookout for Seve van Ass’s magnificent hands when he is presented with even the smallest opportunity. Robbert Kemperman and Billy Bakker provide the experience to run the game from the middle and young Jorrit Croon has begun to fully exploit his phenomenal talent. In the forward line they have a mix of youthful ballplayers in the form of Van Dam and Brinkman alongside journeyed finishers Pruyser and Hertzberger. Mink van der Weerden revolutionised penalty corner flicking and now his protégé, Jip Janssen has arguably surpassed his master. There is no doubt that the Netherlands have the quality to win the tournament, but do they have the discipline to bring home gold?

Great Britain

Great Britain will enter the Olympics buoyed by England’s performance in the Euros. Since Ashley Jackson vacated his role the side has lacked some of the creativity required to unlock top-class opponents. However, Zach Wallace may be able to provide the spark that has been missing at times. Phil Roper stepped up when playing for England and wreaked havoc amongst opposition defences and he must now replicate that form in this Olympic campaign. It has been wonderful to track Sam Ward’s emotional return to the team and fears that he was looking a little off the pace were allayed with his hat-trick against Spain. Controversy surrounded the exclusion of Britain’s goal machine Alan Forsyth, but he is now back in the squad due to the rule adjustment. What remains to be seen is how Kerry rotates his players and whether the team can maintain control for a full match. On occasion, they are guilty of playing at too high a speed when the game requires a calm approach. Do GB have the composure to turn their talent into consistent performances and bring home the gold?

Germany

The Germans had an impressive European Championships, despite losing the final in an atypical fashion on penalties. That defeat is not the only element of this German side that bucks the stereotype. They are still solid and well organised, but not as hard to break down as they have been historically. Now, however, they possess the most frightening front line in world hockey. All with great skill, pace, and playing with huge confidence, the likes of Wellen, Ruhr, and Fuchs will cause nightmares for any defence. Timm Herzbruch in the midfield is developing into a world-class talent and combined with the experience of Tobias Hauke, they will build a strong platform for the attack. There are some very inexperienced players in their final squad, who have made the step up, but not without mistakes. One newcomer who has been hugely impressive is goalkeeper Alexander Stadler – at 21 he could become a very familiar figure in the German net for the next decade. Will the German backline hold and firm and allow their talented trio to secure them Olympic glory?

Canada

Olympic qualification itself must be regarded as a success for Canada as they narrowly defeated Ireland on penalties to earn their spot. However, the tournament itself is likely to be tough for the North American side. They must hold on to the ball better in midfield and not allow themselves to be pressured into mistakes. The Red Caribou are organised and have demonstrated the ability to withstand pressure at the back. They also have an outstanding shot-stopper in the form of Antoine Kindler. Too often the Canadians allow attacks through the centre of midfield and real pace in that area of the pitch can really exploit this frailty. Ho Garcia is an excellent ball carrier and will create chances breaking from the midfield. Experienced goal scorer Pearson will have to make the most of the opportunities that the side creates. Can Kindler keep out the big four sides in Europe and allow Canada to gain a place in the quarter-finals?

Belgium

The Belgians have recently lost their world number 1 spot to the Australians, but they are still a major contender for the gold. They have experience and quality running through every single layer of their side. The change of rules allowing the reserves to participate means that former skipper Thomas Briels may still play. Arthur Van Doren shows true class at the back, not only providing a solid defensive barrier, but also launching attacks with outstanding distribution and elimination skills. Victor Wegnez is the engine in the midfield and acts as the perfect foil for the omnipresent Dohman. In the forward line, they have a plethora of talent and the focus often falls on the goal-scoring prowess of Tom Boon. However, Florent Van Aubel always produces fireworks with his phenomenal skill and will happily take people on to win penalty corners for the likes of Hendrickx and Denayer to fire home. The Red Lions will play with great pace, organisation and accuracy. Can they reclaim the World No. 1 spot and collect their first Olympic gold?

Group A

The only three certainties in life are death, taxes and Australia qualifying from Group A. Japan will struggle to get into the top four, but after that it is genuinely open. The rankings guide would suggest that India take a comfortable second, with Argentina third and that Spain and New Zealand will battle it out for the final spot. However, with the inconsistency of the Indians, the Argentine set piece, the Black Stick’s back four and the Spanish tenacity, anything could happen.

New Zealand

New Zealand go into the Olympics off the back of a tricky Pro League, but will provide a tough test for all opponents. Blair Tarrant leads the Black Sticks from central defence. Alongside Shea McAleese, he acts as quarter back, firing passes all over the park. This long range passing threat combined with right back Kane Russell’s penchant for marauding up the pitch make New Zealand a side who can truly turn defence into attack. Once in the final 3rd, the forwards offer skill and Sam Lane is a master at earning outcomes in the D. Off the ball they are strong, committed and physical, making them hard to break down. The Black Sticks main issue comes when they turn the ball over in the midfield, which happens with far greater regularity than they would wish. Irrespective of the defensive unit, no side can win at this level if they give the ball away in the middle of the pitch. New Zealand will run a lot of teams close, but do they have the midfield to dominate a tournament?

Spain

The Spanish show great passion and flair in all of their matches and the Olympics will be no different. They will pressure the ball carrier and give opponents very little time on the ball in the Spanish half. Don’t be surprised to see a few free hits and the odd card when this side take the field. Xavi Lleonart is a genuine talent up front and he can cause defenders massive problems, although his temperament has been known to get the better of him on occasion. He is joined in the forward line by Pau Quemada who has the ability to score from open play as well as set pieces. The Spaniards are often involved in close matches and press hard from behind, resulting in some wonderful come backs over recent years. However, lapses in concentration at the back and penalty corners given away to readily can also cause them to be vulnerable in the latter stages. Can Spain beat the very top sides? If they are within three goals with five minutes to go, then don’t count them out.

Japan

The hosts have made great strides forward in recent years and will have the 12th man in the form of home crowd…if there is one. Expect to see the Japanese sit back in a half court press for the majority of the game, almost waiting for the opposition to force the ball onto their sticks. They will put pressure on in the deep corners, but even then they are looking for errors rather than proactively winning the ball. Going forward the Samurais are incredibly patient and are happy to keep the ball until they spy a gap in the opposition’s defences. They don’t quite have the quality or creativity of some of the bigger sides going forward, but they will seize on chances presented to them. The likes of Zendana, who plays his league hockey in Australia, provides a threat from the set piece. The Japanese have troubled sides like New Zealand in the recent past, but can their organised defence withstand the barrage from the world’s top teams?

India

India made an impressive start to the Pro League and showed off their world renowned skill. They move the ball with great pace and look to go forward at every opportunity, which can result in goals irrespective of the run of play. Midfield talisman Manpreet Singh can dictate the game and the likes of Dilpreet and Mandeep up front will cause problems for any defender. However, their strength can also serve as their weakness. India’s constant urge to go forward results in more regular turnovers of possession, often in dangerous areas of the pitch. Their defence has talent and includes penalty corner specialist Rupinder Pal Singh. However, his lack of pace may well be exploited in a tournament of this level. India will certainly provide some entertaining games with plenty of chances for both sides, but do they have the consistency to be a genuine gold medal contender?

Australia

The Aussies looked to attack with their trademark pace and aggression in their recent Pro League matches. They have a plethora of top quality players to choose from all over the park, but particularly in attack. Tom Wickham's power and quickness would surely have seen him selected for any other side in the tournament, but so strong are the kookaburras that he does not get a look in. Aran Zalewski will be absolutely crucial, arguably the finest player in the world, Zalewski dominates the middle of the park and makes Australia tick going forward. Jake Whetton has matured in recent years and looks slightly less frenetic on the ball. He is releasing other players faster and helping their speed of attack. From the set piece Blake Govers provides a short corner option that rivals the very best in the world, but can they convert when he is not on the pitch? The transfer round the back from the Aussies is impressive, however in recent history they have begun to make unforced errors and give the ball away in crucial areas. New Zealand recently exposed the occasional lapse in concentration at the back as well. Essentially, can Australia score 4 or 5 goals to win every match and get the gold?

Argentina

Los Leones arrive at every major tournament as an enigma. They undoubtedly have a raft of talent at the top of the squad, but do they have the depth and how will their unusual playing style fare this time around? Pedro Ibarra controls the game from the back, often slowing it right down to walking pace. This contrasts the changes that we have seen from other sides. In particular this year's Euros matches were faster and more hectic than ever. The side do not have Gonzalo Peillat anymore but do have Jose Tolini, whose penalty corner exploits are perhaps even more impressive than those of Peillat. Casella and Vila provide plenty or pace and skill up front. They are more than capable of winning the corners for Tolini to fire home, as well as to score themselves from open play. Ignacio Ortiz in the midfield has impressed recently and can accelerate the play with great awareness. They won't provide the fastest hockey of the tournament and possibly won't create that many chances, but they are likely to be very clinical when they do. Will their back line have the speed to match what's thrown at them and can Tolini's rockets propel them all the way?

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!

Argentina

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.

Australia

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

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!

Germany

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.

Great Britain

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

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.

netherlands

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!

New Zealand

 

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..

Spain

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.

 

Jip Janssen

Here’s an example of what Janssen can do from a penalty corner!

New Zealand vs Argentina (Men) Match 1

28/02/20 Christchurch

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.

2nd quarter

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.

 

3rd quarter

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!

4th quarter

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.

5-3 NZ

Summary

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.

Goals:

 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

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