The Women’s Hockey World Cup, as an FIH event, first took place in France in 1974. Since then 13 champions have been crowned but there is a familiarity to the names that regularly appear in the medal positions at this showcase event.
Topping the World Cup tally is the Netherlands with seven gold medals, including the Rabobank World Cup 2014. The Oranje have also managed a further four silver medals and a bronze. 1994 was the last time a Netherlands side failed to stand on the podium.
In fact 1994 was the year that Australia won the first of their back-to-back gold medals and Netherlands Head Coach Alyson Annan was one of the key players in that victory for the Hockeyroos. The team followed up that success in 1998 in Utrecht.
Argentina and Germany (as West Germany in 1976) are the only other two teams to have lifted the World Cup in triumph. When not winning, these four teams have usually shared the silver and bronze medals amongst themselves.
Canada is the only other team besides those four to have collected a silver medal. Bronze medals have been won by Belgium, Canada, USA, England, the former Soviet Union, Korea and China.
So what of the teams this year? Are there any dark horses lurking among the lower-ranked nations who might end up causing some surprises?
Talking to the Head Coaches is informative. Graham Shaw of Ireland women and Italy’s Roberto Carta are both talking about their players “gaining experience”, instantly taking any over-heightened expectations from their player’s shoulders. Adrian Lock, Head Coach to Spain, has been a little more expansive, suggesting that: “This World Cup can throw up some surprises”.
Also interesting is the learning curve that the coaches constantly refer to. For the nations that do not have a full-time programme, the players’ learning curve is so much steeper.
While Germany can never be said to be rank outsiders, they do come to the World Cup as a team with a reputation for getting better in each round. This approach took them to bronze at the Rio Olympics, who knows what might happen at the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018?
The European trio of Belgium (WR: 13), Italy (WR:17) and Spain (WR:11) have been focusing on their fitness as it is a part of the programme that the players can work on despite not being on a centralised programme. It was an issue that Niels Thiessen, Head Coach to the Red Panthers highlighted after the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in 2017, where his team faded into eighth place, despite a strong start to the tournament. Since then the Belgium team have been working hard to raise their fitness to the highest level possible.
One team who is always looking for a chance to upset the rankings is African champion South Africa (WR: 14). As the stand out team on the continent by some 18 ranking places (Ghana are ranked at 30), the South African team find it difficult to play high quality training matches locally. Much of their preparation is done against men’s teams or the national boys teams. At world level competition, the approach stands them in good stead – they usually finish above their rankings.
At the Hague in 2014, USA came to the World Cup as number 11 in the world. Over the course of the fortnight, they stunned their opposition with their fast, furious style of hockey and their refusal to be cowed by higher-ranked teams.
It was a performance that lit up the stage and is still talked about four years on. The great hope for the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, London 2018, is that it is an event that contains plenty of those two great sporting elements – drama and surprise.
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