The Top of the D has already given a run-down of the teams to compete in Pool A of the Women’s Olympic Hockey competition here. Now, it’s the turn of those in Pool B:
Champions Trophy 2012, winners, World Cup 2010, winners, third in Beijing 2008, Las Leonas are many people’s favourites for the gold medal this time out. With their tournament pedigree and the quality in their squad it is not difficult to see why. They have won the World Cup twice and the Champions Trophy five times, the Olympic Games however, still elude them. Interestingly, they have named two goalkeepers in their squad, with Laura Del Colle and Maria Florencia Mutio vying for the number one spot in the absence of the pregnant Belen Succi. They actually finished second in the Pan American Games, but qualified by virtue of their world ranking, taking up the automatic slot vacated by South Africa. Ignore that hiccup; Las Leonas are the real deal.
Players to watch:
It is impossible to mention Las Leonas without mentioning Luciana Aymar. Aymar is the best player in the world. The talismanic captain is graceful, elegant, strong, skilful, and able to score as well as create goals. She has scored 128 goals in 319 games. Aymar has won the FIH World Player of the Year a record seven times and featured in the FIH All Star team every year since 2006. Quite simply, she is going to be one of the stand-out players of the competition.
Noel Barrionuevo is a defensive rock, named in the FIH All Star team three consecutive years. A veteran of 155 international appearances, she chips in with an impressive number of goals, both from penalty corners and open play.
Carla Rebecchi has 63 goals in 167 international appearances and she adds a bit of bite and tenacity to Argentina’s attack. Her aggressive and hard working style is by no means lacking technical ability and dovetails well with those players around her.
Squad: Luciana Aymar, Noel Barrionuevo, Martina Cavallero, Laura Del Colle (GK), Silvina D’Elia, Florencia Habif, Rosario Luchetti, Sofia Maccari, Delfina Merino, Maria Florencia Mutio (GK), Carla Rebecchi, Ana Macarena Rodriguez Perez, Rocio Sanchez Moccia, Mariela Scarone, Daniela Sruoga, Maria Josefina Sruoga.
Stand by: Julieta Franco, Carla Dupuy.
Germany undoubtedly have the pool of talent capable of challenging for the gold medal at the London games. However, they have had trouble in recent years at major championships, being edged out of the medal places on a number of occasions: In 2008 at Beijing they finished fourth, a placing they repeated at the 2012 Champions Trophy and the 2010 World Cup. They qualified for the Olympics by virtue of their second place finish at the 2011 Eurohockey Nations Championship. Despite getting to the final in their own country they were humbled by the Netherlands, 3-0.
At the risk of stereotyping, they are a very clinical and efficient side. Each of their players are very comfortable in possession, keeping the ball until an opening is available rather than forcing the play. They are a solid defensive unit with a wealth of skill and experience up front. As they showed with their two goals in a minute to sink Great Britain in the Investec London Cup, they are comfortable taking their chances and then holding a team off. A good tournament team will always do just enough. Germany could well be that side in London.
Players to watch:
Natascha Keller is not only a fine player, but also part of an Olympic dynasty: She is the fourth of five Olympic hockey medallists in her family. She won gold in 2004, to follow after grandfather Erwin (1936), father Carsten (1972), brother Andreas (1984, 1988 and 1992) and before younger brother Florian (2008.) Keller will be competing in her fifth and final Olympics. She was named as FIH World Player of the Year in 2009 and has 204 international goals in 413 appearances. Even at 35 years of age, there are few strikers better than her in the competition.
Nina Hasselmann, Julia Mueller, Janne Muller-Wieland and Mandy Haase are a superb defensive unit. Well organised, composed on the ball and with 614 caps between them, they know what they are doing.
Fanny Rinne and Maike Stockel, too, have goals and experience in abundance. The range of quality in the final third compensates for the unusual lack of top-class drag flicker.
Squad: Anke Brockmann, Yvonne Frank, Mandy Haase, Lisa Hahn, Nina Hasselmann, Kristina Hillmann, Natascha Keller, Marie Mauvers, Julia Mueller, Janne Mueller-Wieland, Katharina Otte, Jennifer Plass, Fanny Rinne, Christina Schuetze, Maike Stoeckel, Celine Wilde.
Stand by: Kristina Reynolds, Jana Teschke.
New Zealand qualified by winning a best of three series against Australia to claim the Oceania Cup. It was the first time they had overcome their fierce rivals in such a series and demonstrates they are a side very much on the up in world hockey terms. Their best ever Olympic placing is 6th, which they managed in 1984, 2000 and 2004. However they have shown terrific improvement in recent years, a bronze medal at the 2011 Champions Trophy and a decent showing in the 2012 competition (where they finished 6th) shows this is a team that can compete with the best of the best on any given day. Known for their high intensity, strong work ethic and pace going forwards they will be well equipped to upset the big teams in their pool. Whether they can sustain such high levels throughout the tournament remains to be seen.
Players to watch:
Krystal Forgesson is going into her second Olympics. The 29-year-old midfielder has a great eye for goal, scoring 44 goals in her 158 international appearances. She scored 6 goals in the 2010 World Cup, making her the Blacksticks’ top scorer for the competition, no mean feat for a midfield player.
Reigning FIH World Young Player of the Year Stacey Michelsen joins Forgesson in midfield and is just one cap away from 100 in international hockey. A superb rising star with a bright future ahead of her she will surely shine in London.
Anita Punt brings further strength to the middle of the field for New Zealand, 13 goals in 93 appearances, a place in the FIH World All Star team, and a turn of pace which will leave most players in world hockey for dead makes her a perfect player for their style.
Squad: Samantha Charlton, Melody Cooper, Clarissa Eshuis, Cathryn Finlayson, Gemma Flynn, Krystal Forgesson, Katherine Glynn, Ella Gunson, Charlotte Harrison, Samantha Harrison, Stacey Michelsen, Alana Millington, Emily Naylor (C), Anita Punt, Bianca Russell, Kayla Sharland.
Stand By: Julia King, Sally Rutherford.
Three gold medals over the course of seven Olympic tournaments make the Hockeyroos the most successful women’s team in Olympic Hockey history. They have also won the Champions Trophy six times and the World Cup twice. Their pedigree in the past is unquestionable. However, as their world ranking suggests, they are in midst of a transitional period. They finished sixth in the 2011 Champions Trophy, a position which saw them drop into the second tier of world hockey. They finished fifth at the 2010 World Cup and were defeated by New Zealand in the last Oceania Cup.
However, under Coach Adam Commens, they have adopted a style not dissimilar to that used by their men’s team: They press high up the pitch, denying their opposition time on the ball. They are a fast and energetic side, with some top class players and some very promising up and coming stars. You would expect qualification to be a tough ask for such a young side, but when it comes to sport, Australians don’t generally tend to go quietly.
Players to watch:
Casey Eastham is the obvious one first off the bat. The 2009 FIH World Young Player of the Year has 146 caps and 37 goals from midfield, even though she is still only 23 years old. A fantastic mix of natural talent, energy, strength and technique, Eastham is already a star in her own right, and has many years ahead of her.
Captain Madonna Blyth seems to have been around forever, but is actually only 26. Her experience, gained over the course of 231 international appearances is a valuable commodity and her determination typifies the attitude needed to become one of the best around.
Kobie McGurk is a vital component in the side, but one that not many would necessarily notice. She spends a lot of her time sat just in front of the defence. Anything that breaks through the high Australian press is stopped by the excellent McGurk. It is not the most glamorous of roles but her excellent tackling ability, organisational skills and fine distribution makes McGurk’s efforts as important as anyone else’s.
Finally, there is Jodie Schulz. The Top of the D continues to believe that a world class drag flicker is a must for any team with medal aspirations. Schulz has worked hard on this skill and is starting to look the part: 27 goals in 50 games, she could yet be a major player in the Hockeyroos’ tournament.
Squad: Teneal Attard, Madonna Blyth (C), Fiona Boyce, Jade Close, Toni Cronk, Casey Eastham, Anna Flanagan, Kate Jenner, Kobie McGurk, Hope Munro, Georgia Nanscawen, Ashleigh Nelson, Megan Rivers, Jodie Schulz, Emily Smith, Jayde Taylor.
Stand by: Emily Hurtz, Ashlee Wells.
The USA have a fairly modest pedigree in hockey terms. They do have a bronze medal from the 1984 Los Angeles games, they finished 8th at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. They also captured a silver medal at the 2011 Champions Challenge II narrowly losing out to Japan, 3-2 in the final. However, their qualification for the Olympics in London is perhaps one of their most impressive performances to date: Argentina had never lost in the Pan American Games; however a stunning defensive performance and a clinical attacking showing gave the United States a shock 4-2 win in the 2011 final and secured their place in the London Olympics. The American side has undoubtedly come a long way in the last few years; and a victory over Argentina is no mean feat for any side. They are a strong, well organised defensive unit, but seem to be lacking a little something up front. They will hope to spring a few surprises, but you would think a medal would be out of reach.
Players to watch:
Amy Tran-Swensen, is still a phenomenal goalkeeper. Voted Goalkeeper of the Tournament at the 2006 World Cup, a World All Star 2006 and 2007 she has overcome injury to take her place in the squad. Her ability is still top-notch and plays a significant role in the defensive strength the USA relies on. Great Britain fans will not forget the goalkeeping master class she put on when the sides drew 0-0 at the Beijing games, a draw which ultimately cost GB the chance to advance to the semi finals.
Katelyn Falgowski is an exciting midfield player with over 100 caps to her name, aged just 23. She was selected in the 2011 FIH All Star team, the first American to make the cut since Amy Tran-Swensen in 2007. She was also a nominee for the FIH World Young Player of the Year, but ultimately missed out to New Zealand’s Stacey Michelsen.
Captain Lauren Crandall is going into her second Olympics, and brings with her 177 international caps. She is a tenacious defender who works hard for the team and is a major factor in the defensive solidity that the US relies on.
Squad: Kayla Bashore Smedley, Lauren Crandall, Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Melissa Gonzalez, Michelle Kasold, Claire Laubach, Caroline Nichols, Kathleen O’Donnell, Julia Reinprecht, Katherine Reinprecht, Paige Selenski, Keli Smith-Puzo, Shannon Taylor, Amy Tran-Swensen, Michelle Vittese.
Stand by: Michelle Cesan, Jaclyn Kintzer.
South Africa are a difficult side to read going into the games. Their world ranking and their previous Olympic performances are hardly the stuff of dreams (10th in 2000, 9th in 2004 and 11th in 2008) and yet they are actually a hugely talented group of players. They qualified through the Africa Cup, however like their men’s side they were forced to go through a qualifying tournament by the South African National Olympic Committee. They came through the qualifier unbeaten, and defeated India 3-1 in the final of the competition to book their place in London with something in the tank.
They are an experienced squad, with a lot of caps between them. However, their experience of playing against top level sides is slightly limited.
As they showed at the Investec London Cup, they play a fast attacking game, hitting sides on the break and committing numbers forward from all over the pitch. If there is one question mark over their style of play it is whether they can sustain the energy levels required to play in that fashion as the tournament reaches the business end.
Players to watch:
241 goals in 245 games from Pietie Coetzee tells you everything you need to know. She holds the record for most goals scored in international hockey by any player. She is dangerous from set pieces, but also has the ability to score goals from almost anywhere in open play. If she plays well, South Africa can upset the odds.
Followers of the Investec Women’s Hockey League will recognise Jen Wilson. The Canterbury striker has had a successful international career and has 62 goals in 171 appearances. She is a more than capable foil for Coetzee and could benefit from the attention that her illustrious team mate will receive from defenders.
Captain Marsha Marescia is a hugely impressive player. Pace, versatility and a born leader, she drives her team on from midfield but can also slot into the back four if needed. She has been named in the FIH World All Star team three times, was player of the tournament at the Olympic Qualifier and Player of the Tournament at the Investec London Cup. Marescia is a player of undoubted quality who will hope to shine in London.
Squad: Tarryn Bright, Dirkie Chamberlain, Pietie Coetzee, Bernadette Coston, Sulette Damons, Illse Davids, Lisa-Marie Deetlefs, Lesle-Ann George, Lenise Marais, Marsha Marescia, Mariette Rix, Shelley Russell, Kathleen Taylor, Nicolene Terblanche, Jennifer Wilson, Kate Woods.
Stand by: Vuyisanani Mangisa, Lauren Penny.