This Saturday marks the start of the European Championship. The EC is the 3rd major event in the world of hockey and one 3 titles every hockey player dreams of. With 6 countries from the global top 10 this event is right up there with the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
Let’s talk about the candidates for the European title…
Host nation the Netherlands will be playing in front of their own orange crowd in a renewed Wagener Stadium in Amsterdam. The stands can seat up to 9500 supporters and will be packed for every home game. Like every team the Dutch started building a “new” team after the Rio Games. Alongside a couple of new young talents coach Caldas also made the choice to switch his tactical system to his version of zonal defence and while they are still adjusting to the new way of playing it paid of for them during the HWL in London where they showed some good hockey. With van der Weerden, Baart & de Wijn in a very experienced defensive line up and an equally experienced and creative midfield with Bakker, Verga and Kemperman among others opponents will get few opportunities against the orange machine. The Dutch attacking line is sure to get their share of goal scoring opportunities from these guys so a lot will depend upon their conversion rate in the attacking circle. With some exceptional young talents in every line of play with de Mol, de Geus and Croon or Brinkman and others the future looks bright for them. Not playing the final in front of their home crowd means it is a disappointing tournament.
The Red Lions as they call themselves are no longer an outsider on these events. Everybody in the world of hockey has seen them coming for many years now and the time to harvest is there. They’ve played their share of finals in major events and are hungry for a first gold medal. Shane McLeod, the New Zealand coach for Belgium has struck the right chord with the talents in his team when he took over after a disappointing EC last time in London and they look ready for a first win. Their HWL in Johannesburg was impressive and the transition of several new young talents seems to have gone smooth so far for them. Where the Dutch can rely on 2 Sander’s (Baart & de Wijn)in their defence. The Belgians field a new central defensive duo with 2 Arthur’s (Van Doren & Desloover) and they could be a gold worthy duo for years to come. With experienced star players such as Briels, Denayer, Gougnard, Boon and Van Aubel in their ranks they too will not be happy if they do not reach the final.
The Germans are always a force to reckon with. They too have been replacing some of the old certainties with new talent. But to no surprise these are well groomed according to the German school and will adapt very fast to this level of hockey. Their ability to manage money time in hockey will determine once again how far they can go in this event. I feel it will come a little bit too early for them in their build up to Tokyo. But if there is one certainty in life is you will have to fight until the very last second of the game to beat the Germans in the games that really matter. Hauke and Häner have returned to the team. But will Mats Grambusch be able to keep up the level of play he showed earlier this year? That might be a deciding factor for their result as I’m sure their attacking line will miss Florian Fuchs taking a break. As usual though it will be hard to find a weak spot in their team so when the tournament progresses everybody knows the Germans will deliver. Not being on the podium will be a surprise for them.
Spain, England & Ireland
The Spanish team played a good HWL in South Africa last month and if they can keep up the level they are a force to reckon with. Is Xavi Lleonart sufficiently recovered from his shoulder injury or will this EC come too soon for him. Although they did good without him in Johannesburg his qualities if he’s in shape in time might make the difference in creating difficulties for the two favorites in their poule. They will have to beat either Holland or Belgium to make it through to the semi final which is a tough task. But when it’s their day they can be a difficult team to manage for all.
Like the Spanish both the English and the Irish teams do have the talented players to cause trouble for all, but lack a really strong domestic league to be a consistent threat to the top 3 in Europe. However the Anglosaxon fighting spirit diving at every ball could create a surprise. For the Irish David Harte obviously is the key player to make a difference in achieving success as where good ol’ Barry Middleton is still capable of deciding games despite being one of the oldest in this event with his 33 years of age.
The European Championship has 3 clear cut favourites who are all capable of winning the gold. As well as 3 dangerous outsiders capable of a surprise against any team in the world on a good day. Whatever the scenario that will play out when the event starts next Saturday we are sure to see some good hockey…
Most countries will show the games of their teams live on TV or in live streams from local broadcasters. The Dutch TV will be live streaming all games at nos.nl but these will most likely be geoblocked for those not living in the Netherlands.
Today the European federation also launched their new streaming website: https://www.eurohockeytv.org ! Live and on demand hockey… a dream come true ;) Unless you’re geo-blocked because of old fashioned TV broadcasting deals.
The tournament organisation has promised to announce where live streams can be seen and what matches will be ge-blocked for what countries, so keep an eye on their website as I’m sure they will inform us soon : http://rabo-eurohockeychampionships2017.com/