The highly anticipated hockey event at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing will begin on Sunday 10th August, with all 12 women’s teams in action. They will be hoping to get their tournament off to a flying start, knowing full well that a victory on the opening day could be vital towards Olympic success.
The women’s tournament has the potential to be a marvellous contest, and possibly the most open competition in recent memory. Many of the teams at the Games are currently riding high on a wave of confidence which they hope will guide them all the way to Olympic Gold.
Current World Champions The Netherlands have not collected an Olympic Gold medal for 24 years, a record that they are desperate to change here in Beijing. They are arguably the favourites for the tournament, but there are many who believe that Argentina, winners of the 2008 Champions Trophy in Mönchengladbach, could be the side to challenge them. Having never won Olympic Gold, is this the year that “Las Leonas” and their superstar Luciana Aymar finally bring home the biggest prize in world hockey?
Germany may not have had the greatest of years, but are a side that are more than capable of producing the goods when they really need it. Four years ago in Athens, no-one believed that they could win the Gold medal, but the then coach Markus Weise united his troops to pull off a stunning 2-1 triumph over The Netherlands. Germany may have a different coach in Michael Behrmann, but in reaching the final of the 2008 Champions Trophy they have proven that they could be ready to surprise the world again.
Host nation China are considered to be dark horses for the Gold medal in Beijing, boosted by the support that they will receive from thousands of cheering supporters. Defender and corner specialist Ma Yibo is likely to have a big impact at both ends of the field, while forward Fu Baorong is always a difficult player to handle.
Australia have had a poor year by their very high standards, but will always be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the Olympic Games. The Gold medallists at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 were out of the running four years ago in Athens, something that inspirational captain Nikki Hudson will want to change this time around.
1992 Olympic Champions Spain have a talented squad of players, with the likes of Nuria Camon and captain fantastic Silvia Munoz both capable of turning a match on its head. The side impressed many of the onlookers during their Olympic Qualifier in Baku, Azerbaijan, and in 18-year-old Georgina Oliva they have a young player with an exceptionally bright future.
Korea was in devastating form at the Olympic Qualifier in Victoria, Canada, and will be aiming to continue their good form here in Beijing. The side scored 29 goals in their five group matches before defeating Italy 5-0 in the tournament final.
Great Britain last won an Olympic hockey medal at Barcelona 1992, but the current crop of players is firmly of the belief that they can achieve a place on the podium in Beijing.
New Zealand’s defeat of great rivals Australia in the 2007 Oceania Cup proved that they are more than capable of winning important matches. Captain Lizzy Igasan has been suffering with flu, but is expected to make a full recovery to guide her side through the group stages.
South Africa, winners of the 2007 African Olympic Qualifier, has some excellent players in their line-up. However, it is their captain Marsha Marescia who could make all the difference for them here in Beijing.
Despite finishing bottom of the league table at the recent Champions Trophy in Germany, Japan achieved the shock of the tournament when they defeated The Netherlands. A good start in Beijing could see them in contention for a medal.
USA proved at the Olympic Qualifier in Kazan that they are a force to be reckoned with, and could certainly be a team to watch in Beijing.
The opening match of this year’s Olympic Games will be contested in the morning session between Japan and New Zealand, who face each other in Pool B. Host nation China will be up next, hoping to please the home crowd by defeating Spain in Pool A.
The evening fixtures will see some potentially thrilling games, with Pool A rivals Australia facing Korea and The Netherlands up against South Africa. The latter of those two matches should be an interesting one for Marilyn Agliotti of The Netherlands, whose last Olympic appearance was at Sydney 2000 in the colours of South Africa.
Pool B sees 2008 Champions Trophy winners Argentina looking to get their tournament off to a flyer by defeating USA, while Olympic champions Germany have a tough opening fixture against Great Britain.
The FIH website will be covering all of the hockey action in Beijing. The site will feature live written commentaries from every match, as well as action photos, results, tables, top scorers, match sheets and daily round-ups. You will also be able to download the Olympic Daily newsletter, being produced by the FIH media team in Beijing. The team will be working hard to bring you excellent coverage of the Olympic tournament.