Brussels is all set to host the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Finals – the first of two women's Hockey World League Semi-Final events – and what a competition it is likely to be.
With the dual prize of qualification for the 2018 Hockey World Cup and a place at the Hockey World League Final 2017 for those finishing in the top slots, this is an event that will see hockey at its best.
There are rich rewards for the top placed teams. The four highest finishers will go on to compete in the showcase end of year event, the Hockey World League Final in Auckland, New Zealand between 17-26 November.
And five automatic berths are available for the 2018 Hockey Women's World Cup in London, England although this will increase depending on the outcomes of the upcoming Continental Championships, which are also World Cup qualification events.
With this significant detail in mind, all competing nations will be determined to finish as high up the standings as possible to give themselves the best chance of a ticket to the blue riband event in London from 21 July to 5 August 2018.
Quality and intrigue are the buzzwords to describe this event. The presence of the world number one team, Netherlands, will always ensure audacious skills will be on display and, although they are a side in transition, the Netherlands have a team that is oozing quality all over the pitch. But, there are also teams that will be an unknown quantity – Italy (WR: 16), Scotland (WR: 17) and Malaysia (WR: 22) are teams that are relatively new to this level of competition, so it will be exciting to see how these teams adapt and how other teams cope with new styles of play.
There is a lot of rebuilding going on among the teams that participated at the Rio Olympics. Australia (WR: 4) are a side that is rebuilding after some high profile retirements, but this is a time when some of those left from the Rio 2016 campaign will want to show they have stepped up into leadership roles. Kathryn Slattery, Jane Claxton and Georgina Morgan will be three players hoping to lead the Hockeyroos to the podium.
China (WR: 8) is a team that started a rebuilding process after London 2012 and now has a team with a lot of experience in its ranks. Players such as Zhao Yudiao, De Jiao Jiao and Gao Lihua have more than 650 caps between them and they are old hands at ensuring qualification to the major events.
And two European teams who are on target with their development plans are Spain (WR: 10) and Belgium (WR: 14). The Red Sticks of Spain have an experienced coach in Adrian Locke and some very talented players in their ranks. Belgium would have been disappointed not to have qualified for Rio 2016, but in front of a home crowd, expect to see the Red Panthers bounce back and push for qualification for both the 2018 World Cup and the Hockey World League Final.
Looking at the two pools, there are some intriguing match-ups.
In Pool A, Korea versus China will be a fascinating game between two teams who both like to soak up pressure then quickly counter-attack; the game between Scotland and Italy will also be an interesting encounter as it involves two European teams with very different styles of play.
Over in Pool B, New Zealand (WR: 5) will be the side looking to dominate the pool and secure a good position for the quarter-finals. Too many times for the Black Sticks liking, they have finished in fourth place. The team led by experienced captain Stacey Michelsen will be looking to be among the medals on this occasion.
To follow all the action in Brussels at the Women's FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Finals, click here. For information about all the Hockey World League events, click here.