The Dutch women will be buoyed by a home crowd!

03/06/2021

Bouyed by a home crowd and going in search of a third successive title, the Netherlands will hope they can light up the women’s EuroHockey Championships once again with the tournament getting underway on Saturday at the Wagener Stadium.

Indeed, they have not lost a match in normal time since 2011 and they recently added the FIH Pro League to their array of current titles. But a few of their rivals may be looking on and seeing opportunity after Alyson Annan named a fresh-faced side.

The tournament opens against Ireland in a repeat of the 2018 World Cup final and, with Spain also in the group, Pool A features all three medalists from that competition.

Newly promoted Scotland, meanwhile, are hoping they can get into the shake-up, particularly with World Cup tickets on offer if they can cause a few upsets.

Pool B is similarly well-stacked with Germany, England and Belgium joined by a fresh-faced Italian side with games getting up and running next Sunday. It promises plenty of spills and thrills; here’s a rundown of how each side lines up for the event.

Pool A

Ireland

World ranking: 8th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 14

Best finish: 5th – four times (1984, 2005, 2009, 2019)

Ireland’s target is to break into Europe’s top four for the first time as they look to build on the momentum of a 2018 World Cup silver medal and a first ever Olympic qualification. Their last Euro campaign ended in a fifth place finish, equaling their best performance on the European stage.

They have 13 of that World Cup panel still involved with Deirdre Duke a late inclusion in the panel, making it into the 18-player squad after rising star Sarah Torrans sustained a recent injury. They will also be without Zoe Wilson and Barr twins Beth and Serena because of ACL injuries in the last year.

At the other end of the scale, Michelle Carey will earn her first cap against the Netherlands having impressed coach Sean Dancer since joining the panel full-time last September. Defender Hannah McLoughlin is the other new face, embracing her first world ranking event. Chloe Watkins’ trickery and vision in midfield and Ayeisha McFerran – twice a nominee for FIH Goalkeeper of the Year – bring the star quality while Anna O’Flanagan is the Green Army’s all-time top goalscorer with 81 in 207 caps.

Netherlands

World ranking: 1st

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 15

Best finish: Winners – 10 times (1984, 1987, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2011, 2017, 2019)

The Netherlands are going for a third successive European title and an incredible 11th title in 15 attempts on the continental stage but this could be a tricky challenge ahead following a 2021 marked by many injuries.

Forwards Lidewij Welten and Marijn Veen are both out of the competition while Xan de Waard and Ireen van den Assem are reserves following recent injuries. On the plus side, both Eva de Goede and Malou Pheninckx returned to action in last weekend’s Pro League win over Belgium and are included despite missing a large tranche of the club season.

The changes have allowed Stella van Gils to earn a call-up having only made her debut on Sunday while Felice Albers is included following four goals in her first five international caps. Ilse Kappelle and Pien Dicke are playing their first major tournament, too.

Scotland

World ranking: 22nd

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 12 times

Best finish: 5th (1991)

Scotland are back in the top tier for a 12th appearance following their run to victory in 2019 in the B division. It has been a tricky preparation phase for coach Jen Wilson with the Scottish and English club leagues – from where most of their players ply their trade – only taking in only a handful of games over the past year due to the pandemic.

They will benefit massively from the return of Great Britain internationals Sarah Robertson, Amy Costello, Charlotte Watson and Emily Dark. They have been part of the GB Pro League panel but will wear the blue of Scotland in Amsterdam.

Uncapped youngster Bronwyn Shields will make her first appearance at an international tournament for the Tartan Hearts as will McKenzie Bell and Laura Swanson. Swanson has also got some high level action in this season in the German league alongside experienced goalkeeper Amy Gibson with Der Club an der Alster.

“We have no doubt that this event will be challenging,” says coach Wilson. “But having earned the opportunity to represent Scotland at European A division we know that this group of players will continue the journey they are on, to relentlessly challenge nations ranked above us.

Spain

World ranking: 7th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 15

Best finish: 2nd – two times (1995, 2003)

Spain come into the European Championships looking to build on an excellent recent few years, which has earned them bronze at the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Euros.

Laura Barrios has been rewarded for her outstanding season with Club de Campo de Madrid where she vied for the Spanish Honor Division top goalscorer spot with club and country team mate Begoña Garcia. Indeed, EHL runners-up Campo have a total of eight players in Adrian Lock’s line-up for the competition.

The core of the team is vastly experienced with the diminutive Gigi Oliva the mastermind to set things in motion in the libero role. Maria Ruiz, Carlota Petchame, Maria Lopez, Bea Perez, Lola Riera and Berta Bonastre are all looking forward to their fifth Euros.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Barrios is joined by fellow uncapped player Patricia Alvarez as they hope to make their mark ahead of Olympic selection.

Pool B

Belgium

World ranking: 12th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 11

Best finish: 2nd (2017)

New Red Panthers coach Raoul Ehren has refreshed his panel as they look to emulate their 2017 silver medal at the same location, the Wagener Stadium, as their best ever European performance.

In goal, Aisling D’Hooghe has not quite managed to make the final line-up having recently returned to action after 14 months out due to the birth of her baby. Young guns Elodie Picard and Elena Sotgiu will don the goalkeeping pads.

Barbara Nelen, Alix Gerniers, Louise Versavel and Judith Vandermieren bring huge experience while the exciting Charlotte Engelbert, Justine Rasir, France de Mot and Hélène Brasseur are all embracing their first senior tournament.

It is a first major test for Ehren’s side since he took on the coaching role on a full-time basis and he says the team is under construction.

“Our primary ambition is to work out where we are in relation to nations which are better ranked than us and which are in full preparation for the Games,” Ehren said of his selection. “We have a team with a lot of speed and a lot of creativity, and that’s what we want to show to the outside world in this tournament.” 

England

World ranking: 5th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 15

Best finish: Winners – 2 times (1991, 2015)

The women’s squad is a blend of experience and youth, with three players – Esme Burge, Fiona Crackles and Lizzie Neal – set to make their England debuts. In addition, eight members of the England team that won European gold in 2015 have been selected, including Unsworth for whom this will be a seventh appearance at the tournament. 

In addition, the uncapped Catherine Ledesma will travel with the squad as a reserve alongside Alex Malzer, who made her senior international debut for Great Britain during the 2019 FIH Hockey Pro League. Long-term injuries rule Tess Howard and Emily Defroand out of selection, while Hannah Martin is also unavailable as she continues her rehabilitation from a leg injury. 

Women’s head coach Mark Hager said: “We are very much looking forward to challenging ourselves against top class European teams at the upcoming Europeans – the competition is always high quality. 

“There are a number of good teams competing to win it so we are relishing the opportunity and challenge that awaits us as we look to continue our progression as a group.”

Germany

World ranking: 4th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 15

Best finish: Winners 2 times (2007, 2013)

German coach Xavier Reckinger has made a number of big calls as Die Danas go in search of their third European Championship title in Amstelveen.

He can still call upon seven of the panel that won Olympic bronze in 2016 with many coming into the prime of their careers like Selin Oruz, Anna Schröder, Charlotte Stapenhorst, Nike Lorenz and Cecile Pieper along with the experienced Lisa Altenburg and Franzisca Hauke. Hauke could win her 200th cap during the tournament.

However, the coach has not included players like Janne Müller-Wieland, Hannah Gablac and Elisa Gräve, showing the strength in depth at his disposal.

“All of the players have made another huge development in the last six months and made it really difficult for us,” Reckinger said of the selection. “I am aware that it is a very tough decision and a big disappointment for everyone who is not there, which as a former Olympian I can absolutely understand.”

Germany have made it into the top four of the Euros on each occasion, landing two golds, six silver and four bronze medals.

Italy

World ranking: 17th

EuroHockey Championship appearances: 9

Best finish: 7th – 2 times (2007, 2015)

Roberto Carta’s side for the championships is looking to outdo their best ever finish of seventh with their three previous efforts in the top division all ending in relegation. The side is captained by Chiara Tiddi who knows these surrounds well from her club experience in the Netherlands with SV Kampong.

She is, by some way, their most experienced player with only Eleonora di Mauro having over 50 caps to her name. Indeed, Carta has named seven uncapped players in his panel of 20 – goalkeepers Sofia Monserrat and Lucia Caruso, Ilaria Sarnari, Agueda Moroni, Antonella Bruni, Lucia Fernandez and Agostina Ayala.

Their group match with Germany will be a rematch of their most recent capped international, a November 2019 Olympic qualifier which Germany won 9-0 on aggregate over two legs.

Belgium are also a known opponent, their 4-3 loss to the Red Panthers in 2015 partially costing them a place in the top tier.

All games will be streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org (GEO blocking in Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales)

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Official Website: https://rabo-eurohockeychampionships2021.com/

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