18.08.2015, Brussels; As we count the days before the Unibet EuroHockey Championships, we are having a quick look at the Pools, with a special emphasis on ‘ones to watch’ in each squad. We start today with the Men’s Pool A review:

Netherlands (NED) – world number 2

Three times champions in 1983, 1987 and in 2007 when the championship was last held in England in Manchester, the Netherlands are the highest ranked side on the world list going into the tournament.

The panel has a few eye-catching changes from the World League semi-final in Argentina with Thierry Brinkman – son of the double Olympic gold medalist Jacques – making his major tournament debut. Hidde Turkstra is another player to be added to their panel. They have many avenues of attack from Constantijn Jonker’s innovation to Robbert Kemperman’s magic backhand to the all-round game of Jeroen Hertzberger, all backed up by Mink van der Weerden’s rip-roaring drag-flick, making them one of the sides to watch.

The initial group pits them against England, a side they edged out of the medals in 2013 in Boom in the bronze medal match.

England (ENG) – world number 5

The hosts are looking to win their second European title following their superb victory in 2009 in Amstelveen. Then, as now, Barry Middleton captains the side and he will be one of their main points of momentum in the transition from midfield to attack. He is one of four players who is still around from six years ago along with star midfielder Ashley Jackson, Adam Dixon and Ali Brogdon.

Coach Bobby Crutchley uses the majority of the panel that he employed in Great Britain colours at the World League semi-final in Antwerp with Dan Shingles the one new face in the panel. As such, it is a hugely experienced panel with Iain Lewers likely to be one of the tournament’s stand-out players while George Pinner is a top goalkeeper.

David Ames brings just three England caps into the competition but already has played in the Euros, helping Ireland to finish fifth in 2011 in Monchengladbach.

Michael Hoare is looking forward to entertaining a lively home crowd, saying: “This tournament will be a great experience to be a part of. It’s a real team effort from England hockey to host a major Championships and the staff in the background are doing a fantastic job to showcase some of the worlds best hockey teams.”

*Michael Hoare interview

Having played regularly around Europe , England’s Michael Hoare is looking forward to “a special atmosphere in front of a home crowd” when his side lines out against Russia on Friday night.

Speaking in the build-up to the competition, Hoare says it will be “a great experience to be part of”.

“It’s a real team effort from England hockey to host a major championships and the staff in the background are doing a fantastic job to showcase some of the world’s best hockey teams.

“Having played a lot in Germany, Belgium and Netherlands in the last three years, I can’t wait to get started.”

The Liverpuddlian has been establishing himself in the English and GB set-up since making his debut in 2012, earning a place in the 2014 World Cup squad where England finished fourth.

He will play in his second European championships following selection last week but he says that, especially with the Rio Olympics on the horizon, the width of England’s panel is broadening.

“Competition in both the England and GB squads are good at the moment and only going to get stronger with players coming back from longer injury layoffs too.

“I think it’s really exciting to have competition for places and a wider number of players gaining more playing experience both for the next year building up to Rio and the future.”

The Euros concludes a busy summer which saw GB land third place in Antwerp in the World League semi-final, an outcome that brought with it that ticket to the 2016 Games.

With the proximity of that tournament to the Euros, Hoare is hopeful his side has got the balance right in preparations.

”It has been a long block of training and matches since the end of the club season. Olympic qualification takes a lot out of you both mentally and physically, as it’s such high pressure on one tournament.

“We have had a little bit of downtime since then here and there but generally it has been switching our focus from one thing to the next. I can’t wait for the Europeans this month but I will definitely need a good rest in September before getting going for another exciting year for club and country.”

Spain (ESP) – world number 11

Spain moved within touching distance of an Olympic with a stunning late fightback in the World League semi-final against Korea and a subsequent big win over New Zealand. It means that if anyone other than Russia or France wins the Euros, Fredi Soyez’s panel will confirm their ticket to Rio 2016. Pau Quemada was the star of the show there, scoring a crucial last second equaliser against the Koreas to be one of the top scorers at that tournament, marking him as their man to watch.

Xavi Lleonart is another man to watch while Sergi Enrique and Quico Cortes bring passion to their defence. Roc Oliva, one of the most experienced performers on the elite stage, returns to the Spanish side and says that he “knows it is a tough group but we believe in ourselves. We’re making good steps but there is still room for improvement”.

Spain finished fifth two years ago in Boom and have won the competition twice before; a repeat performance would copper-fasten a trip to Rio next summer.

* Interview with Roc Oliva 

Pooled against the Netherlands and England – two sides in the world’s top five – Spanish star Roc Oliva says his side “believe in ourselves” and anticipates a good performance in London.

Oliva has come back into the side having missed out on the World League semi-final earlier this summer and is eager to make an impact in what will be his second European championships in England having won silver back in 2007 in Manchester as an 18-year-old.

At the World League, Spain dramatically salvaged a fifth place finish with a stunning late  comeback against Korea before winning a shoot-out. A follow-up win over New Zealand means they are now on the brink of qualifying for the Rio Olympics, something they will secure if they win the competition outright or help deny France, Ireland and Russia.

And Oliva says that target is very prominent in their minds: “It is our goal to qualify for Rio and there are really big chances we’ll do it here in London.

“We’re now focussing on the European Cup because it is one of the most important tournament for us and we can qualify straight. However, our preparation for Rio will start just the day after we finish the European Cup.

“We’re happy to be almost qualified but it is not our goal just to be qualified; we want to be in Rio because we believe that we can have a really good Olympics and make big things happen. In order to do that, we must work hard and get the best out of ourselves.”

And he says that the side is in decent shape for the challenges ahead this week after a preparation series against India but there are a few tweaks still to be made.

“We are playing well and improving in some areas of the game, but we need to work harder and work on some other areas that will make the differences in the tournaments. We’re making good steps but there’s still room for the improvement and we’re are very focused on those points.”

Russia (RUS) – world number 19

Russia are back in the highest level of the EuroHockey Championships thanks to their performances in 2013, winning the Championship II division in Vienna. Their previous best was when they played as the USSR, finishing second in 1983 but they have yet to retain their place in the top tier of European hockey since the tournament moved to an eight-team format.

Their panel draws heavily from Dinamo Kazan – one of just two ever-present clubs in the Euro Hockey League – with the experienced goalkeeper Marat Gafarov, Alexey Mayorov and livewire Pavel Golubev among six players named in their original panel of 22 players.

Pooled against the Netherlands and England – two sides in the world’s top five – Spanish star Roc Oliva says his side “believe in ourselves” and anticipates a good performance in London.

Oliva has come back into the side having missed out on the World League semi-final earlier this summer and is eager to make an impact in what will be his second European championships in England having won silver back in 2007 in Manchester as an 18-year-old.

At the World League, Spain dramatically salvaged a fifth place finish with a stunning late  comeback against Korea before winning a shoot-out. A follow-up win over New Zealand means they are now on the brink of qualifying for the Rio Olympics, something they will secure if they win the competition outright or help deny France, Ireland and Russia.

And Oliva says that target is very prominent in their minds: “It is our goal to qualify for Rio and there are really big chances we’ll do it here in London.

“We’re now focussing on the European Cup because it is one of the most important tournaments for us and we can qualify straight. However, our preparation for Rio will start just the day after we finish the European Cup.

“We’re happy to be almost qualified but it is not our goal just to be qualified; we want to be in Rio because we believe that we can have a really good Olympics and make big things happen. In order to do that, we must work hard and get the best out of ourselves.”

And he says that the side is in decent shape for the challenges ahead this week after a preparation series against India but there are a few tweaks still to be made.

“We are playing well and improving in some areas of the game, but we need to work harder and work on some other areas that will make the differences in the tournaments. We’re making good steps but there’s still room for the improvement and we’re are very focused on those points.”

Stephen Findlater, Freelance Journalist on behalf of EHF

TV Listing:

UK and Ireland – BBC (England, Scotland and Irish matches and Finals – BBC red button, BBC2 if England reaches finals)

The Netherlands – NOS (all Dutch games, finals and daily highlights packages)

Germany – Sport 1 (all German matches, men’s final) and ZDF/ARD (highlights package)

Belgium – Telenet (all Belgian matches, semi-finals and finals)

Spain – Teledeporte (all Spanish matches and finals)

France – Ma Chaine (all French matches)

Southern Africa – Supersport (semi-finals and finals)

Star Sports – Qualification games and Finals 

For updates:

Event Website – www.eurohockey2015.co.uk

Follow us on – @EuroHockey2015 / @eurohockeyorg #EHC2015 / #UEHC2015

Facebook – www.facebook.com/EuroHockeyorg / www.facebook.com/EuroHockey2015

Photograph: Roc Oliva in action (Frank Uijlenbroek (c))