Saturday, March 10, 2012

Electrifying Dublin Hockey Olympic Qualifier

THE VENUE: University College of Dublin hockey pitch.


One of the biggest and most important hockey tournaments ever to take place on Irish soil begins this weekend as six international men’s teams go into battle with one aim: win the competition and secure a place at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Electric Ireland FIH Road to London event – which takes place at University College Dublin – is expected to draw near capacity crowds as Korea, Malaysia, Russia, Chile, Ukraine and host nation Ireland give it everything in a bid to reach the greatest sporting show on earth.
Two weeks ago, India became the tenth men’s team to qualify for London 2012 when they won the Hero FIH Road to London tournament in New Delhi, joining Great Britain, Pakistan, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and Spain at the competition. Next Sunday, the 11th qualifying team will be known, with the one remaining Olympic berth going to the winner of the final FIH Road to London event, which takes place later this year in Kakamigahara, Japan.
Here is a closer look at all of the teams that will compete for the title in the Electric Ireland FIH Road to London in Dublin.
Korea (World Ranking: 6th) are the highest ranked men’s team yet to achieve qualification, and on their day are more than capable of beating the very best sides in the world. However, following their failure to secure Olympic qualification at the 2010 Asian Games – where Pakistan emerged triumphant – they have struggled to reach the high standards which so many expect of them. An impressive triumph ahead of Great Britain, New Zealand and Belgium in the London Cup last July suggested that the side were returning to form, but a disappointing eighth place finish at the Owen G Glenn FIH Champions Trophy at the end of 2011 was a blow to Korean confidence. Despite this, Korea rightly go into the tournament as favourites to claim the place at the London 2012 Olympics, which is hardly surprising when you consider the world class talent that the team has at its disposal. Nine of the players in the squad have over 150 caps to their name, with star striker and captain Seo Jong Ho having played 265 times for his country. If Seo is on form, Korea will take some stopping here in Dublin. To see the Korea team in full, click here.

Following their second place finish to Pakistan at the Asian Games in 2010, Malaysia (World Ranking: 13th) have a second bite at the Olympic Qualification cherry at the Dublin Road to London event. The team – captained by Mohd Madzli Ikmar Mohd Nor, a player who has made well over 300 international appearances for his country – come into this tournament determined to reach their first Olympic Games since Sydney 2000, where they finished in 11th place. Like Korea, their recent form has been mixed, a point marked by their fifth place finish at the FIH Champions Challenge 1 which took place in December in Johannesburg, South Africa. A recent 1-0 defeat against 27th ranked Wales suggests that they are still struggling for form, but this team possesses more than enough quality to mount a serious challenge for that elusive place at the London 2012 Games. One player to watch is Tengku Ahmad Tajuddin Tengku Abdul Jalil, a striker who has a habit of scoring spectacular and often crucial goals for his team. To see the Malaysia team in full, click here.

The men of Ireland (World Ranking: 16th) have made huge strides forward in recent years. South African coach Paul Revington has forged a talented group of young players into a formidable team that is both defensively strong and extremely dangerous on the attack. Revington’s charges achieved a creditable 5th place finish at last year’s EuroHockey Nations Championship, notching up an impressive 8-2 victory over fellow Olympic qualification hopefuls Russia before inflicting a 3-2 defeat on Spain, the Silver medalists at Beijing 2008. The team is captained by Ronan Gormley, an accomplished defender who plays his club hockey for Spanish giants Club de Campo of Madrid, a team that reached the final of the Euro Hockey League in 2011. Gormley is one of 12 Irish internationals playing club hockey overseas, with others including Conor and David Harte (SCHC – The Netherlands), Chris Cargo (Reading HC – England), and dangerous forward Eugene Magee, who represents Belgian champions KHC Dragons. A recent 3-0 series whitewash against Czech Republic included a dazzling 9-0 triumph, proving that the tournament hosts are in fine form coming into this event. To see the Ireland team in full, click here.

20th ranked Russia arrive in Dublin with a good blend of youth and experience. The youngest player is talented 19-year-old Semen Matkovskiy, who is almost half the age of talismanic striker and captain Aleksandr Platonov. Despite being 37, Platonov is still an incredibly powerful, dangerous forward who is capable of creating goals out of nothing. Alexander Zhirkov is Russia’s stand-out player both indoors and outdoors. His skill and creativity could be key to Russian dreams of reaching a first Olympic Games since being part of the Unified Team which took part in Barcelona 1992. To see the Russia team in full, click here.

Chile (World Ranking: 26th) may not be considered amongst the favourites taking part in the Electric Ireland FIH Champions Trophy, but they have proven over the last 12 months that they are a team that is rapidly developing. The South Americans grabbed a third place finish at the Pan American Games, cruising to victories over Barbados (9-1), Trinidad & Tobago (3-1) and Cuba (4-3) to claim their second successive bronze medal at the competition. Penalty corner expert Jan Richter netted six times during the competition, and will be a dangerous weapon for Chile here in Dublin. Another player to watch is Alexis Berczely, a skillful forward who regularly finds the back of the net for his team. To see the Chile team in full, click here.

Ukraine (World Ranking: 29th) are another fast improving team, and are certainly not attending this tournament purely to make up the numbers. They have their sights set firmly on the task of achieving Olympic Qualification, and will not be taken lightly by any of their opponents. The team is coached by Pavlo Mazur and captained by 36-year-old defender Ruslan Pashovskyy, who will be hoping to lead his national hockey team to a first ever appearance at an Olympic Games. At 40 years of age, defender Sergii Suprun is the oldest player in the competition. To see the Ukraine team in full, click here.

You can keep up to speed on all the developments from the tournament on the FIH website, which will be regularly updated with the latest news, results league tables and images. The FIH will also be posting occasional updates from the tournament to twitter via @FIH_Hockey, or by searching the hashtag #roadtolondon.