The world number one Netherlands go into the women’s Belfius EuroHockey Championships as undoubtedly the side to beat following World Cup and Pro League gold to add to their 2017 Euros success.

But the spread of contenders on the world stage is widening in recent years and there are six of the top ten ranked nations in Antwerp, all with designs on the top prize. It makes for a fascinating competition. Today, we look at each of the competitors and what they bring to the table:

POOL A

Netherlands (World Ranking: 1)

Without a doubt, the team to beat at the moment. Alyson Annan’s team are the reigning champions of the European Championships, the World Cup and the Pro League. They also sit over 700 points clear of their nearest rivals at the head of the world rankings and are currently on a run of 16 successive wins in competitive matches.

The level of talent is evident with the legendary captain Eva de Goede and Lidewij Welten named on the FIH Player of the Year shortlist for 2018 along with Xan de Waard. They will hope to win a 10th gold medal in 13 editions of the women’s Euros.

Spain (World Ranking: 7)

Spain’s target is to end a 16-year wait for a European Championship medal, dating back to 2003 when they took silver on home turf. While it is a long wait, they are high on confidence after an epic year which brought a World Cup bronze medal and gold at the FIH Series Finals in Valencia. It has seen them rise to seventh place in the world rankings.

Captain Georgina Oliva has long been a superstar and she leads the side into battle this week while goalkeeper Maria Ruiz was in the running for FIH Goalkeeper of the Year for 2018 following her heroics in London. A maiden European Under-21 gold in July suggests they are only getting started.

Maria Lopez has recently returned from injury which is a big boost but Xantal Gine and Maialen Garcia miss out.

Belgium (World Ranking: 9)

Belgium’s Red Panthers made the breakthrough on the European stage in Amsterdam two years ago, winning their first-ever medal of this magnitude, silver in Amsterdam. It continued their upward curve, reaching the semi-finals in two of the last three European Championships.

They backed it up with a fifth-place finish in the Pro League with wins over higher-ranked Australia, China, New Zealand, USA and Great Britain under their belt. In front of a home crowd, they will be looking forward with relish to their rematch with the Netherlands in a repeat of the 2017 final in Amsterdam.

The side will be without the recently retired Anouk Raes but Abigail Raye is an eye-catching addition. The English-born players lined out 155 times for Canada up until 2016 but have spent enough time away from the international game to switch allegiance. Jill Boon, Barbara Nelen and Louise Versavel provide the inspiration.

Russia (World Ranking: 23)

Russia returns to the EuroHockey Championships for the first time in a decade, earning their promotion via a second-place finish at Championship II level in 2017 in Wales. As Russia, they did finish in fourth place back in 1999. While under the USSR flag, two bronze medals and a silver were achieved.

Their world ranking is on the rise following a good performance at the FIH Series Finals in Hiroshima earlier this year, outdoing higher-ranked Uruguay and Poland to claim fourth place. Eight of that side are Under-21 and also impressed at the Junior Europeans last month, suggesting this is a sleeping giant on the way back to the good times.

Bogdana Sadovaia – who previously played for Ukraine – is their leading light, top-scoring in the 2017 Euro II competition with eight goals in five games. Kristina Shumilina, meanwhile, played in the promotion from the third tier in 2015 and again in 2017.

POOL B

England (World Ranking: 4)

England will be looking to win an eighth successive medal in the European Championships and continuing a run of never finishing outside the top four in the continental competition.

They won the tournament for the first time in 2015, two years after earning silver when the Euros last visited Belgium. With a new-look team, they bowed out of the World Cup in 2018 at the quarter-final stage with more than half of the Rio heroes moving on and they finished eighth in the Pro League.

But, with the likes of Giselle Ansley, Lily Owsley, Sussanah Townsend, Laura Unsworth, captain Holly Pearne-Webb and two-time world goalkeeper of the year Maddie Hinch in the mix, they have real quality to guide the next generation. Shona McCallin is another Olympian back in the fold for the first time since 2017 after a serious head injury.

Germany (World Ranking: 5)

Led by the talismanic Janne Muller-Wieland, Germany are looking to build on an excellent Pro League performance this year, earning the bronze medal. Their European Championship record is impressive, winning the title in 2007 and then again in Boom in 2013. They can also boast five silver medals and four bronze medals in 13 attempts and they have never missed out on the semi-finals.

They did so with a young squad but they will miss star striker Charlotte Stapenhorst who is out injured. In addition to Müller-Wieland, Anne Schröder and Franzisca Hauke offer strong presences to guide the way for a squad who have 15 players aged 24 or under.

Ireland (World Ranking: 8)

The Green Army surprised the majority of the hockey world last year when they reached the final of the World Cup has entered the tournament in London as the second lowest-ranked side.

Since then, they have a new coach with Sean Dancer moving from New Zealand and former coach Graham Shaw going the other way to lead the Blacksticks. They earned an Olympic qualifier ticket with a run to the FIH Series Finals in June on home turf.

With increased confidence, they will be targeting a first-ever appearance in the European semi-finals. Fifth is their best result, achieving that position in 1984, 2005 and 2009.

Belarus (World Ranking: 22)

Belarus is taking part in their second European Championships in the top division, both of which have taken place in Belgium with an eighth-place finish in 2013.

The world number 22 side finished fifth earlier this year in the FIH Series Finals in Valencia which included wins over Namibia and Wales with Krestina Papova netting seven times. Their promotion was earned via a winning performance in Wales in the EuroHockey Championships II, beating Russia to first place in the process.

They will also feature plenty of players from the side that took bronze at the 2018 Indoor World Cup, showing a high technical level.

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