The hockey competition at the Rio 2016 Olympics will undoubtedly be the most exciting one yet. The world’s top teams are all coming into form and with 3 days until the first match, let’s take a look at the teams, their key players and how they might fare.
Players to watch: Knowles, Ockendon, Dwyer.
Australia are due for Olympic gold. 2004 was the last time they were Olympic champions and while they have become World Champions in 2010 and 2014, they have faltered at the semi final stage of the last two Olympic Games. Their strength lies in their physical dominance and unbreakable team-ethic. Their ability to flawlessly interchange positions and maintain a flowing style of play is unique to the Kookaburras. They will also threaten from the penalty corner with young gun Blake Govers in great form and Chris Ciriello always providing a threat.
Players to watch: Boon, Denayer, van Aubel.
Belgium are full of individual class and have had some success in the last few years. Their only Olympic medal however, was a bronze in 1920. They will be pushing to live up to the potential that they have within their ranks. Their defensive unit is strong, with Arthur van Doren playing a key role at the back. Vincent Vanasch is a class keeper and their penalty corner threat will be spearheaded by Tom Boon, with Loick Luypaert and Felix Denayer providing alternate options.
Players to watch: Vehrle-Smith, Rost Onnes, Y. van der Heijden
Brazil are the most unknown entity at the upcoming games. They qualified as host team by finishing in the top 6 of the 2015 Pan American Games and will be hoping for strong home support to support their cause. The team is captained by Ernst Rost Onnes and have some experience in the form of Yuri van der Heijden. Playmaker and corner specialist Stéphane Verhle-Smith will be key for them and will bring a heap of experience from his time with Holcombe in England.
Players to watch: Jackson, Middleton, Lewers.
GB will want to do at least one better than their London 2012 performance and end with a podium finish. The team will be lead by the experienced combination of Ashley Jackson, Barry Middleton and Iain Lewers. Jackson will not only be a threat in the midfield, but also from the PC where he will be instrumental to the team’s success.
Players to watch: S.Child, Archibald, McAleese.
New Zealand won the Olympic gold medal in 1976 but since then have only had one top 6 finish. They have heaps of experience combined with some young and talented players. Captain Simon Child will be key, while PC responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Kane Russell, who has shown that he is able to score in key moments.
Players to watch: Alegre, Lleonart, Quemada.
Spain have won silver in 1980, 1996 and 2008. The team will look to put in a strong performance after a disappointing showing in London. Naturally, they will play with a lot of flair and passion and will rely heavily on key players to make the difference. The PC responsibilities will be shared between Pau Quemada and the relative newcomer, Pep Romeu.
Quarterfinalist Prediction Group A:
2. Great Britain
Players to watch: Mazzilli, Vila, Peillat.
After a bronze medal showing at the 2014 World Cup, Argentina will be a major threat in Rio. They will play with a strong defensive mindset, and rely on individual flair up front to score goals or create penalty corners, where their biggest weapon, Gonzalo Peillat, will have the opportunity to execute his lethal drag flick.
Players to watch: Pearson, Carter, Ho-Garcia.
Canada are back at the Olympics after missing out in London. The team will be fielding 14 first time Olympians who will all be looking up to the experienced playmaker, Mark Pearson, as well as captain and defensive anchor, Scott Tupper. Tupper will also be responsible for PCs. Keep an eye on goalkeeper Dave Carter, who was in the running for 2015 keeper of the year and will be critical to Canadian success.
Players to watch: Fürste, Fuchs, Hauke
Reigning Olympic champions Germany will be looking at making it a hat trick of Gold medals. The team is well known for their strict commitment to defensive responsibility as well as a fast and technical front line. Germany are notorious for their ability to play smart tournament hockey and to peak at the right time. PC threat will be provided in the form of Mo Fürste and Tom Grambusch.
Players to watch: Manpreet, Sardar, Harmanpreet.
India will be looking to shake off the disappointment of a last place finish at the London Olympics. The last four years have seen the team bounce back well and jump up the world rankings with some strong performances. They are now ranked 5th after being 9th as recently as March 2015. They have players with loads of typical Indian flair and will be a major threat at penalty corners with Raghunath, Rupinder and Harmanpreet all possessing the ability to score vital goals.
Players to watch: D. Harte, O’Donoghue, Jermyn.
Ireland will be fielding a hockey team at the Olympic Games for the first time since 1908. Despite a lot of challenges in their build up, they have proven to be a formidable opponent. They beat England to the bronze medal in the 2015 EuroHockey Nations Championship after qualifying for the semi finals at Belgium’s expense. They will rely heavily on the quality of the 2015 world’s best goalkeeper, Davey Harte, to keep them in contention. Shane O’Donoghue and John Jermyn will provide the PC threat.
Players to watch: Pruyser, van der Horst, Kemperman.
The Dutch are certainly under pressure to come home with gold, having not achieved the feat since Sydney 2000. There is quality all over the pitch, with 2015 world player of the year Rob van der Horst running the show from the back, playmaker Robbert Kemperman creating attacking options from midfield and in-form goal getter Mirco Pruyser hovering around the penalty spot. They also possess arguably the best drag flicker in the world. Mink van der Weerden was the top scorer at London 2012 with 8 goals, including at least one goal in each game.
Quarterfinalist prediction group B:
1. The Netherlands