The heat is on in Porto where the women’s EuroHockey Club Challenge III will take place with six teams vying for promotion for their country.
They are divided into two groups of three with the first round of matches taking place on Thursday. From there, the top two in each three team group will advance to a final promotion playoff match on Sunday while the third place finishers will playoff for fifth overall.
Both groups have a Portuguese side in action with hosts GD Viso in Pool B along with Croatia’s HAHK Mladost and Finland’s ABC-Team while Group A has Lisbon Casuals, Gibraltar’s Europa and Swedish newcomers SFL Mesaicos.
Here’s a background look on each side:
Porto (Women) – EuroHockey Club Challenge III
Europa completed their third successive Gibraltar title earlier this month to go into this competition in great shape.
Ten of their panel formed part of the Gibraltar national squad during their younger hockey journey, competing in Croatia (Under-18) and France (Under-16) while eight were with the Gibraltar women’s squad for friendlies against the Great Britain Elite development squad and, most recently, the Wales O40s in April.
This will be their second Eurohockey tournament since forming in 2020 under the guidance of Christian Zammit (Head coach) and Gareth Flower (Team Manager & Assistant Coach).
Zammit says of their rise: “We got together three seasons ago and have experienced great success locally. We continue to develop the squad and representing our country in a EuroHockey tournament is an honour that we take with pride. We do not take it lightly and are excited to gain experience, face the challenge, and learn in order to further develop the squad.”
The club adds “this competition will provide the perfect platform to showcase our skills and the hard work we have put in over the past few months. The team is eager to deliver an outstanding performance and is excited about the upcoming challenge.”
Much of the panel grew up together, playing for various clubs in Gibraltar and competing locally against Spanish clubs like San Fernando, Benalmadena, Isla de Leon and Malaga in their youth. They disbanded during university years but a group came together to form the new club with the aim “of reigniting our passion for the sport, enjoying every minute, and creating more competition for the local league”.
It has proven successful with five titles already won across 11-a-side, 9-a-side and cup competitions while they were named GBC Sports Awards Senior Team of the Year, an awards ceremony that celebrates sporting excellence and achievement throughout 2021/2022 in Gibraltar.
The teams has two sets of twins; Emma and Louise Flower and Dana and Lorena Garcia whose younger sister Ashley is also in the line-up.
SLF Mesaicos (SWE)
SLF Mesaicos is a relatively young club from Sweden, founded in 2014, with an international flavour with players coming from Sweden, Britain, South Africa, Netherlands, Australia, Hong Kong, Belgium and Germany.
It’s the second time the women’s team has qualified for the EuroHockey Club Challenge, but it will be the first time to participate with their 2020 tournament canceled due to the pandemic.
With the Swedish winter being longer than most other countries, their outdoor season is not yet in full flow so they have been practicing on heated pitches surround by snow which was quite an experience.
As such, they say the heat will be a challenge for them in Portugal. In preparation, they have played friendly fixtures against other teams in Sweden and their own men’s team who will play in Kirklareli.
The team is very happy to bring team manager Frank Geldof to Portugal. He has been a player of Mesaicos himself, and has been coaching and training both the men’s and women’s team before.
Frank says about the tournament: “Our goal is to embrace the thrilling atmosphere of the EUROHOCKEY CLUB CHALLENGE III tournament in Porto, where our focus, ambition, team spirit, and love for the game unite to create unforgettable moments filled with camaraderie, determination, and pure fun.”
Lisbon Casuals (POR)
Lisbon Casuals make the trip north following their Portugeuse title success last weekend when they beat GD Viso twice – 5-3 on Saturday, 3-2 on Sunday – to complete their domestic in style.
They went through the regular phase of the season unbeaten with just one draw to their name, setting up the final date with Viso with Yanina Rojas the star shooter, scoring 26 times in nine games. They also won the cup title for good measure.
Rojas is among six Argetinean players in their squad while they also have players with German, Spanish and Dutch origins.
This will be their first European outdoor competition having played in six editions of the indoor Challenge I, most recently in February when they were fifth in Skierniewice.
Grupo Desportivo do Viso (POR)
Portugal’s runners-up last weekend, GD Viso are this weekend’s hosts in Porto in their fifth appearance at this level since 2017, each time finishing between fifth and seventh. Like Lisbon Casuals, there is a healthy influence from Argentina with a half-dozen of their panel hailing from there along with a Spanish and German player, too.
Diana Ponce in their key striker with 11 goals in eight games during the regular season while Marta Lamoglia is hugely important. She played Junior FC in their run to Euro Hockey League bronze in 2022.
Despite being just 21, Flávia Oliveira has played in each of their European tournaments since 2017 while captain Ana Nogueira is another well-versed on this stage.
HAHK Mladost (CRO)
The Croatian champions are in good shape to retain that status for another year as they sit seven points clear of HK Zrinjevac. Central to that form has been the scoring of Dora Lagančič who has fired home 23 times while British teenager Lucie Swann and Lucija Čepo have also been prolific.
This is their seventh Challenge III tournament in the past 10 years with the highlight coming in Greece in 2013 when they were gold medal winners; in 2021, they finished with a bronze.
This time, they will meet GD Viso in the group stages for the fourth time with the Croatian side winning the previous encounters 4-0, 4-0 and 3-0.
ABC-Team will become the first Finnish women’s team to compete in a European club outdoor tournament since 2001 when they hit the turf in Porto while it was 2006 when the club last played indoors in Europe.
In the past, the club has played ten times outdoors, five times in the Trophy and five times in the Challenge I. Given the hiatus, it will be a new experience for the players who qualified for this event at the Finnish 2021 champions – as their season runs through the summer compared to other countries, their qualifier comes from a year earlier.
In 2022, they finished in third place in their domestic competition but they did produce a stellar showing to land the Finnish indoor title in February.