As the Sentinel Homes Women's Hockey World League Final 2017 is all set to start in Auckland, New Zealand on Friday 17 November, we take a look at the eight teams who qualified via the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels and Johannesburg and assess their chances of success in the end-of-year showpiece event.
Pool A promises some highly competitive matches as the Netherlands, USA, New Zealand and Korea are pitted against each other; while Pool B has some intriguing match-ups as England, Argentina, Germany and China face-off for pool supremacy.
The Netherlands are currently ranked number one in the FIH Hero Hockey World Rankings and with good reason. They were unstoppable at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels, Belgium winning seven matches from seven to win the event. They then took that form to the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships, where they were once again undefeated and rounded off a strong display with a 6-0 win in the final against Belgium. Their Head Coach, Alyson Annan, has now got them firing on all cylinders. They play with fluidity, devastating speed and, importantly, enjoyment. While the old guard of Lidewij Welten, Carlien Dirkse van den Heuval and Eva de Goede will be pulling the strings, watch out for new stars such as Laurien Leurink and Maartje Krekelaar.
USA also won their Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, South Africa and their Dutch coach, Janneke Schopman, is another who is making her mark with her team. USA are currently ranked seventh in the world after losing out in the 2017 Pan American Cup to Argentina and Chile, but this performance was a blip for the team that is renowned for its work ethic and extraordinary fitness levels. Melissa Gonzalez is the embodiment of the USA team ethos. The midfielder is dynamic, hugely talented, always upbeat and raises her game for the big matches.
The 2015 Hockey World League Final runners-up, New Zealand will have the home crowd firmly behind them as they seek to win their first global trophy. The Black Sticks are a team that has been so close to glory on so many occasions but have fallen at the last hurdle. The team finished third in Brussels at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals and will be looking to build on that experience. In their co-captains, Stacey Michelsen and Samantha Charlton New Zealand has players of immense talent and experience and head coach Mark Hager will be looking to these two to provide stability and structure while Ella Gunson and Pippa Hayward will lead a speedy and aggressive forward line.
Korea arrive in Auckland on the back of a bronze medal at the Asia Cup in Kakamighara, Japan and will be bolstered by the return to action of their goal-scoring maestro Park Mi Hyun. The team ranked ninth in the world scraped through to this event courtesy of a fourth place finish at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels – an event that started badly as they lost to Netherlands 9-0. But they rallied and did what they did best, defending well then counter-attacking at pace. Expect another consistent performance with the fireworks provided when Cheon Seul Ki Park Mi Hyun get in the circle.
England are ranked second in the FIH Hero World Rankings and arrive in Auckland on the back of bronze medals at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg and at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships in Amsterdam. The spine of Great Britain's 2016 Olympic medal-winning team are there – among them captain Alex Danson, Sophie Bray, Laura Unsworth, Hollie Pearne-Webb and Maddie Hinch. Coach Danny Kerry is however keen to give some of the players with fewer caps the chance to shine on the big stage. Olivia Paige, Erica Sanders and Elena Rayer all have fewer than 10 caps. Kerry’s expressed aim is to give his squad members the opportunity to experience ‘big stage’ moments ahead of next year’s Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup in London.
Ranked three in the world, Argentina are the reigning Hockey World League champions but also a team that has very much been rebuilding in recent months. A fourth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg was way below their own high expectations but it served the purpose of dual qualification for this event and the World Cup. A gold medal at the Pan American Cup suggests that Las Leonas are heading back to winning ways and, as Head Coach Agustin Corradini cements his own coaching style, the other competitors know that Argentina are a team to be feared. Agustina Albertarrio, Maria Granatto and Rocio Sanchez are all dangerous in attack, but the real dynamo is Delfina Merino – currently one of the best players in the world.
If ever there was a team that you cannot write off it is the team ranked sixth in the world, Germany. A bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and a silver medal at the Hockey World League Semi-Final against USA have both been won after beating higher-ranked opponents. Die Danas fell short in the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships as they finished in fourth position but this is a team that grows into each tournament and has high levels of self belief. The team has had to cope with the loss of Head Coach Jamilon Mulders in the summer but with players of the calibre and experience of Janne Muller-Weiland, Anne Schroder and Marie Mavers in the team, plus the incredible talent of Mike Lorenz and Charlotte Stapenhorst, this is a team who can compete with the best.
The eighth team in the line-up is China, who arrive in Auckland on the back of silver medals in Brussels and at the recent Asia Cup. The arrival of Jamilon Mulders from Germany is a signal of the Chinese ambition to start winning major events. Mulders has picked a young team for this event. Only the goalkeeper Li Dongxiao, Zhang Xiaoxue and Peng Yang have more than 100 caps, with seven of the team on 10 caps or fewer and all except two players under 25 years old. The captaincy is shared between veteran keeper Li and the rising star Ou Zixia, who just 12 months ago was captaining China at the Junior World Cup. China’s style is to defend with discipline and then break on a quick counter attack. Whether this tactic will change under the new coach remains to be seen but, as China proved in the Hockey World League Semi-Final, they are a tough unit to break down and they make the most of their rare attacking moments.
This meeting of the best teams in the world is the last global international prize on offer ahead of the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018, and the winner will also qualify for next year’s Hockey Champions Trophy. Expect to see great hockey, fierce competition and some amazing skills on display.
The event gets under-way on Friday 17 November as firstly USA take on Korea, followed by home nation New Zealand against the world number one side, the Netherlands.
Follow all the action on FIH.ch and FIH's social channels, , , and Snapchat.