LONDON, 26 July – Australia coach Ric Charlesworth is aiming to complete his set of major championship victories in men’s and women’s hockey by adding London 2012 Olympic Games men’s gold to his impressive collection of honours.
As coach of Australia’s women’s team between 1993 and 2000, Charlesworth won two world cups, two Olympic gold medals, Commonwealth Games gold and four consecutive Champions Trophy tournaments.
Since taking over the men’s team, he has claimed the world cup, Commonwealth Games gold and three consecutive Champions Trophy titles – the only thing now missing is gold at the Olympic Games.
The top prize eluded him four times as a player between 1972 and 1988, but at London 2012 he chases his elusive medal armed with a powerful Australia team, ranked No.1 in the world and currently the sport’s most dominant force.
The men’s and women’s tournaments contain 12 teams in two pools of six. The top two in each pool go on to contest the semifinals and the medals during the classification phase, while the other teams play off for the remaining places from fifth to 12th.
Pool A is likely to be dominated by Charlesworth’s Australia, who have lost just two matches at major tournaments in the last three years and are led by five-time FIH world player of the year and 2004 Olympic champion Jamie Dwyer.
They are joined by Great Britain who (as England) are one of the two teams that can boast a recent victory against Australia, 3-2 on the opening day of the world cup in 2010, and Spain, who denied Australia the chance of a second Olympic gold at Beijing 2008 with a 3-2 comeback win in the semifinal.
Beijing 2008 gold medallists Germany are in pool B and have a chance to win consecutive Olympic gold medals for the first time in their history. Joining them are Netherlands, the last men’s team to achieve that feat – winning at Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000.
Any surprise in pool B would most likely come from 2012 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup champions New Zealand, but Korea, eight-time Olympic champions India – who return to the Games after missing qualification for Beijing 2008 – and Belgium, are all capable of disrupting the expected order.
Teun de Nooijer (NED) and Pol Amat (ESP) will both compete at a record-equalling fifth Olympic Games.
Netherlands will try to convert their No.1 ranking into a third Olympic gold medal, a total that would draw them level with Australia as the sport’s most successful Olympic team. Just as she did at Beijing 2008, Maartje Paumen will provide the team’s most potent goal threat with drag-flicks at penalty corners. She needs two goals to equal Alyson Annan’s (AUS) overall record of 13 Olympic goals.
Netherlands will play in pool A alongside Great Britain, whose chances of a medal are high according to the statistics. In the eight Olympic Games that have included women’s hockey, the home team has won a medal on six occasions, two of which were gold – at Barcelona 1992 and Sydney 2000.
Beijing 2008 silver medallists China (they lost 2-0 against Netherlands in the final) are also in pool A, and are the team most likely to cause surprise results, although Korea’s determined approach could also be difficult to manage.
After winning medals but missing the top prize in the three previous Olympic Games, motivation will not be lacking in pool B for Argentina as they attempt to win their first Olympic gold.
They certainly have the form, having won two of the last three world cups and four of the last five Champions Trophy tournaments. It is also the last major title missing from the career biography of Argentina captain and seven-time FIH world player of the year Luciana Aymar – who has the chance of becoming the sport’s first female four-time Olympic medallist.
Germany, who lost to Argentina in the bronze medal match at Beijing 2008, are the other team in pool B with strong semifinal ambitions. They can boast plenty of experience in their squad with three Olympic champions from Athens 2004, including Natascha Keller, who will become the first woman to play hockey at five Olympic Games.
The other teams in the pool with an unexpected place in the semifinals as their target are New Zealand, three-time Olympic champions Australia and USA – who can claim a 4-2 win against Argentina in the gold medal match at the 2011 Pan American Games.
Pool A – AUS-1, GBR-4, ESP-5, PAK-8, ARG-9, RSA-12
Pool B – GER-2, NED-3, KOR-6, NZL-7, IND-10, BEL-11
Pool A – NED-1, GBR-4, CHN-5, KOR-8, JPN-9, BEL-16
Pool B – ARG-2, GER-3, NZL-6, AUS-7, USA-10, RSA-12