Having looked over the runners and riders in Pool A yesterday, it is now time to examine those teams competing in Pool B of the Investec World League Semi Final in London. This is, in my opinion the tougher of the two pools, so there will plenty of quality on show as these teams battle it out to qualify for the World League Final and the World Cup in the Netherlands.
World Ranking: 6
Squad: Toni Cronk (GK), Georgia Nanscawen, Casey Eastham, Kirstin Johnson, Jodie Schulz, Ashleigh Nelson, Anna Flanagan, Karri McMahon, Madonna Blyth, Edwina Bone, Kellie White, Emily Hurtz, Georgie Parker, Claire Messent, Jade Warrender, Emily Smith, Rachael Lynch (GK), Teneal Attard.
Australia are a dangerous side in this competition. Adam Commens has done an excellent job in setting them up as a high-energy, quick, threatening side capable of scoring goals and of putting good teams under pressure. They might not have the galaxy of stars they did when the likes of Nikki Hudson were sweeping all before them, but this is a side which has a lot of potential. Only six of this squad are over 25, and only one of those (goalkeeper Toni Cronk) is over 30. The Hockeyroos have a number of players with over 100 caps; Captain Madonna Blyth has 248, at the age of just 27. It is fair to say that whilst young in years, this is by no means a naïve team. Their high press and willingness to commit bodies forward at pace could see them cause problems for their rivals in London.
Player to watch: Named FIH World Young Player of the Year just this week, Anna Flanagan is blossoming into a fantastic international player. A tall, elegant defender with a good eye for a pass and calmness under pressure beyond her years, Flanno is a key part of this Hockeyroos team. She has developed her prowess from penalty corners too, ensuring she is capable of chipping in with important goals at important times.
World Ranking: 4
Squad: Maddie Hinch (GK), Kirsty Mackay (GK), Laura Unsworth, Sarah Haycroft, Hannah Macleod, Georgie Twigg, Susannah Townsend, Susie Gilbert, Kate Walsh, Sam Quek, Alex Danson, Giselle Ansley, Sophie Bray, Hollie Webb, Ashleigh Ball, Sally Walton, Lily Owsley, Nicola White.
New coach Jason Lee has named eight Olympic Bronze Medallists from the London 2012 squad, giving the hosts some level of familiarity. However, there are also a number of players new to the international set up, including Lily Owsley, who at just 18 years of age is set to make her debut in this tournament. It is hard to know what to expect from England at this competition. On paper it is a strong squad, including a number of players with over 50 caps to their names. In Kate Walsh, England have a player with 292 international caps and plenty still in the tank. However, in practice it is also transitional time and being drawn in the tougher of the two pools will mean there is little time for settling in. Jason Lee is well known for his attacking mentality, and his side has plenty of pace and firepower going forwards. Add that to a partisan home crowd roaring them on, we could see some exciting stuff from the hosts.
Player to watch: No doubt about it, Alex Danson is the standout player. With nearly 200 international caps and 50+ goals she is the team’s talisman. As with Luciana Aymar when she plays in Argentina, every time Danson was on the ball at the Riverbank Arena, there was a real buzz around the crowd about what she might create. A danger anywhere in the circle due to her excellent front and reverse stick shooting, superb technical skills and pace, it’s not hard to see why Danson is a crowd favourite and England’s main goal threat.
World Ranking: 15
Squad: Maria Lopez (GK), Rocio Ybarra, Maria Lopez, Julia Pons, Eugenia Guajardo, Maria Romagosa, Berta Bonastre, Maialen Garcia, Raquel Huertas, Anabel Flores, Angeles Ruiz (GK), Lola Riera, Olalla Pineiro, Patricia Marana, Xantal Gine, Beatriz Perez, Gloria Comerma, Georgina Oliva.
Spain are something of an enigma. They are a side that seems to be packed full of attacking talent, yet they often flatter to deceive. They qualified behind Italy from the World League Round in Valencia, losing to Ireland and beating the Italians on penalties before running out 5-3 winners over Belarus en route to qualification. There is no doubt they have some good players and are capable of some excellent hockey. However, given the quality of the other sides in the group it is hard to see them doing too well.
Player to watch: It has been something of a break out year for 21-year-old Lola Riera. She is a potent penalty corner weapon, as she demonstrated with two such strikes as well as a penalty stroke in that crucial clash with the Belarusians. She was also awarded the player of the tournament at the Copa de la Reina in Spain, earning rave reviews for her mature performances and her ability to find the net.
World Ranking: 11
Squad: Sanani Mangisa, Phume Mbande, Lenise Marais, Marcelle Keet, Nicolene Terblanche, Illse Davids, Shelley Russell, Tarryn Bright, Pietie Coetzee, Quanita Bobbs, Bernie Coston, Dirkie Chamberlain, Jade Mayne, Tanya Britz, Lilian du Plessis, Izelle Lategan, Kelly Madsen, Marsha Marescia.
South Africa are a tough side to read. 2012 saw a series of impressive warm up games followed by a disappointing Olympics, it really is Jekyll and Hyde with the Giles Bonnet’s team. Part of the reason for that is the lack of competitive hockey they are exposed to all year round, due to their geographical location. Undoubtedly they have a hugely talented group of players, but they often find they come up short due to not having experienced playing at a high level quite as regularly as other teams. That being said, their pace and willingness to get beyond the ball in attack make them a very dangerous side. Captain Marsha Marescia is a fantastic player and Dirkie Chamberlain and Jade Mayne certainly know where the goal is. Underestimate them at your peril.
Player to watch: Ten goals in four games during the last round of the World League, over 250 international goals, the highest international goal scorer of all time; it is fair to say Pietie Coetzee would enhance any team’s chances of winning. A superb focal point for all the attacking talent around her, an eye for goal in open play and a superb exponent of drag flicks from penalty corners, Coetzee is not out of place among the top players in the world and she will surely show that in London next week.
It is hard to say who will emerge on top of this pool. England have plenty of quality alongside the new faces, whilst there are question marks over the consistency of Spain and South Africa. If anything, you’d say Australia are the most settled of the teams in the group. One thing’s for sure, it promises to be a hugely entertaining tournament. Why not come along and see for yourself?