After months of uncertainty around pandemic restrictions and their impact on hockey fixtures, the Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam will once more be the scene of international hockey action.
The 2021 EuroHockey Championships, both men’s and women’s events, will be taking place from 4-13 June in the iconic stadium, with the top teams in Europe doing battle for both the continental title and qualification for the 2023 Men’s FIH Hockey World Cup and the 2022 Women’s FIH Hockey World Cup.
Eight men’s and eight women’s teams will be competing, with the world number one men’s and women’s teams, namely Belgium men and Netherlands women, hoping to repeat their success of 2019.
With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 just a few weeks away, many of the competing teams will also see this event as a chance to see their players in action on a highly competitive stage. For many players this is a chance to experience hockey with the heightened atmosphere of noisy fans, television cameras and the presence of other media – something that hasn’t happened for many months.
Competing in the men’s tournament, alongside the reigning champions Belgium, are Netherlands (World Ranking: 3), Germany (WR: 5), England (WR: 6), Spain (WR: 9), France (WR: 12), Wales (WR: 18), and Russia (WR: 22).
In the women’s competition, all three 2018 Women’s World Cup medallists compete in Pool A, Netherlands (WR:1), Ireland (WR: 8) and Spain (WR: 7). Scotland (WR: 22) are the fourth member of that group. Pool B sees Germany (WR: 3), England (WR: 4), Belgium (WR: 12) and Italy (WR: 17) lock horns.
In the men’s competition, teams that finish in the top five will qualify for the 2023 Men’s World Cup in India. For the women, Spain and Netherlands automatically qualify as joint hosts for the 2022 Women’s World Cup, which means the remainder of the teams need to finish in the top three – or top four or five if either host nations finish in the top three.
In Pool A of the men’s EuroHockey Championships, Belgium, England, Russia and Spain will be vying for position, with Shane McLeod’s star-studded Red Lions expected to do well against lower-ranked opposition. In this team of multi-capped players, Tom Boon is likely to get his 300th cap over the course of the competition, with Victor Wegnez closing in on his 100th.
Many of Danny Kerry’s England side were part of the Great Britain side that beat Spain in their last FIH Hockey Pro League match, and also enjoyed a double victory over Germany. Zach Wallace and Liam Ansell both showed good form in the Pro League matches and will hope to continue to perform well on this big stage.
Spain has heaps of talent in its ranks, with goalkeeper Quico Cortes continuing to impress between the posts and David Alegra, Pau Quemada and Xavi Lleonart all pushing the buttons from midfield. The newer members of the squad are also finding their form, with Marc Miralles and Jose Basterrra looking very sharp in recent matches.
Russia is the lowest ranked team in the competition but the experience of players such as Iaroslav Loginov, Nikolay Yankun and Pavel Golubev, combined with a physical and uncompromising style of play will make the Russian team a difficult one to break down.
The highest ranked team in Pool B is Netherlands, who will relish the chance to play in their home stadium in front of a largely Dutch audience. Head Coach Max Caldas has named an experienced squad, including three players with more than 200 caps apiece – Jeroen Hertzberger, captain Billy Bakker and Robbert Kemperman. Also in the ranks are the exciting newer talents of Jip Jannsen and Jorrit Croon.
This is a highly competitive pool however, as Germany is a side that is very much on form. The previous meeting between the two sides saw Germany beat Max Caldas’ Netherlands 4-2 and 3-1. Head Coach Kais Al Saadi is continuing his policy of mixing experience with youth by selecting four 21 year olds – Linus Müller, Justus Weigand, Teo Hinrichs and goalkeeper Alex Stadler – with fewer than 30 caps between them, alongside players such as captain Tobias Hauke and defender Martin Häner, who have a combined cap count of more than 570.
Both France and Wales are team capable of causing an upset. France are big-stage performers, as they demonstrated when they beat Argentina in the 2018 Men’s World Cup in Bhubaneswar. Victor Charlet will provide a wealth of experience as he leads the team and he will be ably supported by seasoned campaigners such as Simon Martin Brisac, Jean-Baptiste Forgues and Viktor Lockwood.
Jacob Draper will provide much of the creative flair for Wales, while Lewis Prosser and Rupert Shipperley are both players who can turn opportunities to goals.
While Belgium and the Netherlands may be the sides to beat, it is difficult to write off any of the teams contesting the top spots.
In the women’s competition it is difficult to look past the host nation. Alyson Annan’s team has only been beaten a handful of times since the Head Coach took charge in 2015. For this competition, Netherlands are likely to be without their hugely talented playmaker Lidewij Welten, who is recovering from injury. The probably return of Eva de Goede following injury and the presence in the squad of proven winners such as Margot van Geffen, Caia van Maasakker, Xan de Waard is enough to strike dread into the hearts of their opponents. Annan has also included seven players with fewer than 10 caps apiece, including Stella van Gils, Marente Barentsen and Rosa Fernig, who could all make their debut.
The last time Ireland played the Netherlands in a top tier competition it was the final of the 2018 Women’s Hockey World Cup in London. On that occasion the Green Army lost 6-0 but won silver in the competition. This time, Sean Dancer’s team are facing the Netherlands in the opening match of the EuroHockey Championships and Ireland’s Roisin Upton is determined the team has learnt from the World Cup experience.
“We might have gone into that final a little bit naive,” she said, adding, “Coming up against the Dutch, you have to be realistic - you can't be conceding goals in the first half as lightly as we did, taking as many risks going forward.”
For Spain, this is a chance to show that they are a side that continues to grow under the long-term stewardship of Head Coach Adrian Lock. Spain won bronze in the equivalent tournament in 2019 and they will be looking to equal or better this result in Amsterdam. The Red Sticks is a side packed with talent: Georgina Oliva, Berta Bonastre, Lola Reira, Carlota Petchame – this is a team oozing with talent, experience and – as the most recent World Cup and EuroHockey Championships have proven – plenty of ambition.
Scotland may be the lowest ranked team in the tournament but they can always be relied upon to punch above their weight. Head Coach Jen Wilson is an experienced campaigner following a long career as a South African international. The drive within the Scottish team is likely to come from the talented midfielders Sarah Robertson and Charlotte Watson, with captain Becky Ward and Amy Costello keeping it steady in defence.
There will be some intriguing match-ups in Pool B. Belgium were silver medallists at the 2017 edition of this competition, while England won the event in 2015. Germany were runners-up in 2019 and haven’t been out of the medal positions since 1987. The fourth side, Italy, have never featured in the medals but are a team constantly seeking to cause an upset.
For Belgium, this period is very much a time for rebuilding. They proved they were on an upwards trajectory with two comprehensive victories over USA in the FIH Hockey Pro League. They are known as a physical, tough side who love to counterattack. Players such as Barbara Nelen and Alix Gerniers lead by example and, in Ambre Ballenghien the Red Panthers have a real match winner.
Eight members of the England squad played in the team’s 2015 gold medal-winning squad. At the same time, Head Coach Mark Hager is also bringing in fresh faces with Esme Burge, Lizzie Neal and Fiona Crackles making their England debuts.
Germany will be fielding a side that is packed with experience – Nike Lorenz, Anna Schröder, Charlotte Stapenhorst, Lisa Altenburg and Franziska Hauke, all have more than 100 caps. However, a surprise omission is that of Janne Müller-Wieland, who has been a mainstay of the team since 2008.
The fourth team to line up in Pool B is Italy. Led by the Chiara Tiddi, who is the heart of the Italian defence, the Italian team has a number of players making their debut at this level of competition. Head Coach Roberto Carta will be looking for his side to play with the same fearlessness they showed at the 2018 World Cup, when they defeated higher ranked teams through a combination of strong defending and persistent attacking. The Italian forward line is led again by Ivanna Pessina and Lara Oviedo.
The 2021 EuroHockey Championships get underway in Amstelveen on 4 June when Germany meets Wales, followed by Netherlands against France in the men’s competition. The opening women match will see Netherlands face Ireland, followed by Spain against Scotland.
Please the EuroHockey Website to know where you can watch the games.