By The Hockey Paper
Of the 14 Olympic play-off ties drawn in Lausanne on Monday, Spain men v France is perhaps the stand out, two-legged encounter of the lot – with plenty riding on it.
Sure, there is Holland v Pakistan to whet the appetite – two mens’ nations with plenty of Olympic pedigree – China women hosting Belgium, Malaysia men travelling to Great Britain, and a phalanx of other subplots to savour, but it’s still hard not to focus on October 25-26 in Valencia.
Spain men reached the recent EuroHockey Championships final, well beaten by Belgium, and will start as favourites against the French next month.
The Spanish seem to be continually stilted by a lack of funding. Despite continually punching above their weight, given the success of the women’s side too, failure to reach the Olympics will be a further body blow for the nation and a cash injection in the arm which won’t be forthcoming on the road to Paris 2024.
And so to France, a team which has its roots from the Junior World Cup in 2013 when they reached the final and blossomed last December in Bhubaneswar courtesy of a thrilling journey to the quarter-finals.
France reaching Tokyo 2020 will be a significant boost to the sport. Not least with a beefed-up profile ahead of Paris, but also with a team which is increasingly coming up with performances on the global scene under their Dutch coach Jeroen Delmee.
“We are rather better against top teams than the other way around,” France manager Bertrand Reynaud admitted to L’Equipe on Monday.
Of the other men’s ties, Ireland men will travel to Vancouver to play part-timers Canada and will be thankful of missing potential clashes against either France or Great Britain.
Malaysia will aim to overturn a 23-year winless record against a Great Britain side in London in early November, while the Black Sticks face a tricky clash against Korea.
On the women’s side of qualifying, the Olympic champions Great Britain will aim to up their game and put their below par EuroHockey campaign to bed against Chile, one of the draws’ ‘minnows’.
It will be a first meeting between the two nations but GB will be favourites to progress to Tokyo. So too Ireland, the world silver medallists, who host a Canada side which has been based in Europe thanks to crowdfunding and will be no easy push overs.
Meanwhile India’s participation will mean that November 1-2 will be a lively affair in Bhubaneswar and ensure that the hockey play-offs over consecutive weekends will be eagerly anticipated.
25/26 October: Spain – France, Valencia
26/27 October: The Netherlands – Pakistan, Amsterdam
26/27 October: Canada – Ireland, West Vancouver
1/2 November: India – Russia, Bhubaneswar
2/3 November: New Zealand – Korea, Stratford
2/3 November: Germany – Austria, Mönchengladbach
2/3 November: Great Britain – Malaysia, London
25/26 October: Australia – Russia, Perth
25/26 October: China – Belgium, Changzhou
25/26 October: Spain – Korea, Valencia
1/2 November: India – USA, Bhubaneswar
2/3 November: Germany – Italy, Mönchengladbach
2/3 November: Great Britain – Chile, London
2/3 November: Ireland – Canada, Dublin