Content courtesy of FIH
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The biggest women's sporting team event to take place on British soil this year is all set to begin, with the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup London 2018 getting underway on Saturday 21 July.
Ahead of the event, which runs over two weeks to Sunday 5 August, the 16 participating teams have been acclimatising to the new pitch and mentally preparing for the prospect of competing in front of huge, noisy crowds of spectators.
The magnificent, newly-erected West Stand is an impressive temporary landmark on the London skyline, and the iconic blue pitch is in superb condition as it prepares for the opening matches of this exciting competition.
So what can the thousands of spectators in the stands and the millions watching around the world expect over the coming days?
There is a calmness and confidence in the camp of the reigning champions Netherlands, the team that proudly sits at the top of the FIH Hero World Rankings. The team in orange have enjoyed a seamless build-up to the competition and in their Head Coach, Alyson Annan, they have a leader who knows how to win World Cups.
But there are 15 other teams who all have their own ambitions. From the lower-ranked teams such as Italy (WR:17) and Ireland (WR:16), who both see every game as a final and will play with all the accompanying ferocity that teams in that position can muster; to the host nation England (WR:2) and in-form New Zealand (WR:4) who both feel that this is their time to make their own World Cup history.
Both England and New Zealand will be full of confidence on the back of recent successes. Many of the current England team tasted success at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games playing for Great Britain and that memory will leave them wanting more of the same.
New Zealand have enjoyed a fine few months with a silver medal at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final and a gold at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Like England, they will hope success breeds success.
Argentina (WR:3) and Australia (WR:5) are two teams who have been making the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre their own temporary home. There is a confidence to both Las Leonas and the Hockeyroos which has been lacking in recent months.
Australia's Head Coach Paul Gaudoin is pleased with the team spirit that is so obvious among his squad, while the singing, dancing Leonas are already giving the venue a touch of South American magic.
South Africa (WR:14) come to London as a relatively unknown team. Unlike many of the European and Asian teams in London, South Africa's preparations have largely taken place at home. Expect fast, furious and highly skilled play from the African champions, who always perform ahead of their rankings at these major events.
For Belgium and Spain, the route to World Cup qualification has been one of continued progress. Both teams qualified as a result of their final placings at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels – eighth and seventh respectively – but the past few months have seen both teams ramping up their training and closing the gap on their higher-ranked competitors. Belgium's second place finish at the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships will have provided Niels Thijssen's team with a confidence boost ahead of this event.
With Tokyo 2020 less than two years away, the Cherry Blossoms of Japan are intent on making their own assault on this competition. Aware of the opportunity to spread the reach of the sport to a whole new audience, the team – led by Head Coach Anthony Farry – will be intent on making an impact and garnering interest back in Japan. The team have a history of finishing this event mid-table; Farry's intention will be to turn this into a more winning mentality.
China are very much an unknown quantity. Head Coach Jamilon Mülders has enjoyed just nine months with his squad and the mission is clear – to inject some European flair into the highly disciplined and hard-working squad. Every training session, every match and every competition is providing a chance for Mülders to work his magic. The question is whether he has had enough time.
Interviews with India's squad suggests that Sjoerd Marijne has his team buzzing with enthusiasm. The players are sensing a chance to make history of their own as they arrive in London with a world ranking of 10 but a habit of upsetting those rankings. In Rani, the team has a combination of youth and experience and the much-admired captain is surrounded by players with high skill levels. The question will be whether the team can get off to a good start and keep the momentum.
Which leaves just two teams to mention, both with very real medal hopes. USA (WR:7) were the surprise package of the 2014 World Cup. They finished fourth and impressed with their speed, flair and, above all, work ethic. Teams will now know the USA's gameplan but with canny Head Coach Janneke Schopman adding some European nous to USA endeavour, they could find themselves pushing for medals again.
Germany (WR:6) will be seeking to do the Indoor and Outdoor double. The team contains many of the players who starred in the Indoor Hockey World Cup in February in their home city of Berlin are now gracing the stage in London. This is a nation that knows how to deliver at the big events and Xavier Reckinger has a squad that is blessed with experience and talent.
The opening match of the Vitality Hockey Women's World Cup will be a great start to proceedings, with South Africa and Germany going head to head. Then London will know that World Cup fever has well and truly arrived as England face India.
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