London 2012, Men’s Competition: A Look Back.

With the dust now settled on an exhilarating Olympics, The Top of the D takes a look at the top six men’s teams from London 2012, and gives them their end of tournament reports:

Germany.

Pre-tournament ranking: 2nd.

Final Position: Gold Medalists.

Top Goalscorer:  Florian Fuchs (6)

Star men: A star-studded squad always makes it hard to pick out individuals, however Captain Max Mueller was superb in defence for his team. Good in possession, strong in the tackle, he really led by example and was a driving force from the back and a calming influence when it was needed, throughout the tournament.

Florian Fuchs, aged just 20, enhanced his growing reputation with 6 goals in the tournament. His technique and calmness in front of goal were evident in abundance in London and he will be a true star for many years to come.

Goalkeeper Max Weinhold was the epitome of consistency. He hardly put a foot wrong and displayed incredible athleticism, pulling off some wonderful saves at crucial times. A defence is only as good as its goalkeeper, and fortunately for Germany, in this tournament, that was very good indeed.

Happy or disappointed? Happy. Very happy indeed! Germany showed they are the ultimate tournament team at the Riverbank Arena. Some voiced concerns that they had been run close in the pool stages by supposedly inferior opposition, and they even lost to the Netherlands in their penultimate pool game. However, they did enough to ensure they were there in the semi finals, and then turned it on when it really mattered, producing a splendid performance to knock out World Number 1, Australia, before exacting revenge on the Dutch in the final. The phrase “You can never write off the Germans” is in popular usage for a reason.

 Netherlands

Pre-tournament ranking: 3rd.

Final Position: Silver Medalists.

Top Goal scorer: Mink Van Der Weerden (8.)

Star men: Van Der Weerden understandably gets a lot of credit due to his eight goals, which make him the tournament’s top goal scorer. Despite the furore over Taeke Takema’s omission, Van Der Weerden’s potency from penalty corners was pivotal in his side’s run to the final.

Billy Bakker, a player many outside of Holland would not have heard of before the Olympics, caught the eye with his goal scoring ability and the seemingly effortless manner in which he linked up the play with his teammates. Bakker found the target six times, all from open play, as he bamboozled defences all the way through the tournament.

Roderick Weusthof shouldered the burden of replacing Jeroen Hertzbeger, a surprise omission from the squad, admirably. Like Bakker, he also netted 6 times, and proved a more than adequate penalty corner option when Van Der Weerden was off the field. An already burgeoning reputation was done no harm at all, in London.

Happy or disappointed? That’s tough to answer. Going into the tournament, a lot of the media were writing the Dutch’s chances off and criticising Paul Van Ass for his non-selection of Takema and Hertzberger. In the end, those choices were vindicated, as the Oranje ran riot, boasting 20 goals between just three players. A silver medal for the side that was ranked third going into the tournament is not to be sneezed at. However, having destroyed Great Britain in the semi-final by nine goals to two, they will be disappointed to have been largely kept out, in the biggest game of them all. A case of being content with what they have, but having gone so close to the gold, they will be slightly disappointed.

Australia

Pre-tournament ranking: 1st.

Final Position: Bronze Medalists.

Top Goal scorer: Jamie Dwyer (6.)

 Star men: At times during the pool stages, Jamie Dwyer looked like he was playing a different game to everyone else. His eye for goal, his ability to seemingly run all day and his outrageous technical skills showed the world why he is one of the greatest of all time.

Russell Ford and Glenn Turner caused havoc with their willingness to exploit space in wide areas and their control and skills, particularly along the baseline were strong factors in Australia’s goal scoring exploits that saw them qualify for the semi finals with a goal difference of +18.

Happy or disappointed?

Disappointed. Australia’s tournament was almost the opposite of Germany’s. After the first two games, many people were giving Australia the gold medal. They beat South Africa and Spain 6-0 and 5-0 respectively and looked to be operating on another level to everyone else. Even after the hiccups against Argentina and Great Britain, they still showed enough to suggest they were a threat, beating Pakistan by seven goals to nil. Ultimately, when it mattered, they found a strong, well organised German side simply too good in the semi finals. Whilst the bronze was some consolation, they will be scratching their heads at how they could suffer such a dramatic loss of form in such a short space of time.

Great Britain

Pre-tournament ranking: 4th.

Final Position: 4th.

Top Goal scorer: Ashley Jackson (6.)

Star men: Goals aside, most of Great Britain’s best moments, certainly from an attacking point of view, came from Ashley Jackson. His ability to pick a pass, his eye for goal and his penalty corner skills made him, understandably the player the home fans were pinning their hopes on. Jackson had a fine tournament.

Richard Smith grew in confidence with every game. He was an imposing physical presence who hardly put a foot wrong from a defensive point of view. His distribution and tackling were excellent and he will surely be a fixture in the side after an impressive showing in front of the home crowd.

Happy or disappointed? Disappointed. On the face of it, for the fourth placed side in the world to finish in fourth place in the Olympics is spot on and there is much to be positive about. However, as this was arguably the best-prepared Great Britain side ever, in front of a partisan home crowd, they will perhaps see this as a chance missed. At times, they played some superb hockey. Dan Fox’s strike in the 4-1 win over Argentina an example of the free-flowing attacking style that this group is capable of. They went through the group stage without losing a game, but ultimately came up short with a freak result against a rampant Netherlands side, before being unable to get up off the canvas to overcome Australia to salvage a bronze. Definitely a case of what might have been.

Belgium

Pre-tournament ranking: 11th.

Final Position: 5th.

Top Goal scorer: Tom Boon (5.)

Star men: Boon was tipped as one to watch before the tournament, despite going in recovering from injury and after a slow start, he didn’t disappoint. Boon showcased the abundance of talent and goal-scoring skills that have made the whole of the hockey world sit up and take notice of the young Belgian.

Jerome Dekeyser, too showed he is up there with the best from penalty corners, but also showed he is far from a one trick pony, displaying poise, strength and the kind of know-how that nearly 200 caps will get you.

Happy or disappointed: Very happy. Belgium produced arguably the performance of the tournament and are the side that are showing a meteoric rise in world hockey. Going in as the second lowest ranked team in the tournament and finishing fifth, six places above your world ranking is a wonderful effort. They ran Germany close in the first game and could easily have come away with at least a point, losing 2-1. Their unbeaten run of four games in the latter half of the tournament culminated in a 5-2 demolition of Spain in the 5th/6th play-off. Belgian hockey is in good shape at the moment, their Olympic performance confirmed that.

Spain

Pre-tournament ranking: 5th.

Final Position: 6th.

Top Goal scorer: Pau Quemada (4.)

Star men: Despite going into the tournament with an all-star forward line, Spain struggled to find the net, scoring only eight goals in the pool stages. With the strikers not firing, Miguel Delas’ goals from midfield took on an even greater significance, as the 28 year old chipped in with crucial goals against South Africa and Argentina. He had a good tournament in an otherwise disappointing showing from his team.

Pau Quemada worked tirelessly up front and took up the penalty corner mantle with great success. He seemed to cut a frustrated figure, but never gave up and never stopped searching for chances for his side.

Happy or disappointed? Disappointed. Touted as dark horses in their pool and a potential threat to Great Britain’s chances of qualifying for the semi finals, Spain faltered due to an unusual shyness in front of goal. They were blown away by Australia, drew with a below-par Pakistan, and despite their ire towards the umpires, came up short against Great Britain in a crucial game. Their humbling at the hands of Belgium in the 5th/6th playoff was the final nail in the coffin of a difficult tournament. Obviously injuries to captain Santi Frexia and Pol Amat hardly helped their cause, but all in all this was a tournament to forget for Spain. I wondered before the Olympics whether the Spain of the 2011 Champions Trophy (silver medalists) or the Spain of the 2011 European Championships (sixth place) would turn up. Sadly, for them it was the latter.

Part two of the end of tournament reports, covering the 7th-12 placed teams will follow later this week.

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