Content Courtesy of the FIH
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – January 14, 2020 – The 2020 season of the FIH Hockey Pro League has one weekend in the books, but the next few months will see some top talent hit the pitches throughout the world.
Below is a breakdown of each of the women’s competing FIH Hockey Pro League teams and an athlete to watch for each.
No.1 The Netherlands
The Netherlands went into last year’s Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 as red-hot favorites and completely justified that status, defending the crown that they won in 2014 with a string of wonderful, record-breaking performances. Their dominance continued throughout 2019, storming to the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League title before becoming European champions for a record tenth time. Head coach Alyson Annan, the legendary former Australia international and two-time FIH Player of the Year, has created a team very much in her own image: a perfect balance of outrageous talent, discipline and an unbreakable winning mentality.
With such a staggering run of form, it is little surprise that they will be seen as favorites not only to defend their FIH Hockey Pro League title but also for the gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. By using 33 different players en route to winning the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League title, Annan revealed the depth of the talent pool that she has at her disposal. Whilst emerging talent has unquestionably been given the chance to shine, there are certain players who simply cannot be ignored when it comes to their importance within the group. Captain and midfielder Eva de Goede (nominee: 2019 FIH Player of the Year), striker Frederique Matla (nominee: 2019 FIH Player of the Year and FIH Rising Star of the Year) midfielder Xan de Waard and penalty corner ace Caia van Maasakker are all extraordinary talents, while 2015 FIH Women’s Player of the Year Lidewij Welten remains one of the most formidable attacking players on the planet. Can anyone stop the dazzling Dutch?
One to Watch: Eva de Goede
On a team full of superstars, it takes a player of rare quality to shine, but The Netherlands captain De Goede does just that. A defensive minded midfielder with a flawless skillset, De Goede’s ball running, tacking and visionary passes are a joy to behold. De Goede was named FIH Player of the Year for 2018 and has been shortlisted for the 2019 prize alongside compatriot Frederique Matla.
Click here for The Netherlands’ roster.
No. 2 Australia
Between 1994 and 2000, Australia were by far and away the best team on the planet, claiming two Olympic gold medals and two World Cups as the team coached by Ric Charlesworth (and inspired by the on-field brilliance of current Netherlands women’s head coach Alyson Annan) ruled the hockey world. Now back up to number two in the FIH World Rankings, the Hockeyroos are once again a genuine powerhouse of the global game.
Under the guidance of head coach and former Australia men’s international Paul Gaudoin, the team in green and gold have become one of the few teams capable of consistently challenging Annan’s all-conquering Netherlands side. Their squad is packed full of quality players, with defender and penalty corner expert Jodie Kenny, striker Emily Chalker and goalkeeper Rachael Lynch - nominated for the FIH Goalkeeper of the Year award both in 2018 and 2019 - all reliably outstanding performers. A silver medal behind The Netherlands in the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League was a fine achievement, but they will be looking to go one better in 2020.
One to Watch: Rachael Lynch (GK)
While the Hockeyroos are blessed with numerous high-quality players throughout their ranks, the superb goalkeeping displays of Lynch have garnered praise from everyone who has witnessed them. A brilliant shot-stopper and a true master of the shootout one-on-ones, Lynch - the highest capped Hockeyroos goalkeeper in history with more than 220 senior international appearances - is as much a match winner as any of her outfield compatriots.
Click here for Australia’s roster.
No. 3 Argentina
‘Las Leonas’ (The Lionesses) have long been considered as one of the world’s most fearsome attacking teams and are undisputedly a true powerhouse of the game. Since the 2014 retirement of eight-time FIH Player of the Year Luciana Aymar - unquestionably one of the greatest players in the history of the sport - Argentina have claimed numerous titles, including the 2016 Champions Trophy, 2017 Pan American Cup and 2019 Pan American Games, with the latter sealing their spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. They were perhaps unlucky to finish fourth in the inaugural edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, qualifying for the Grand Final event before suffering agonizing shootout defeats against both Australia (semifinal) and Germany (third-place playoff).
Argentina’s current squad contains some true superstars of the global game. Goalkeeper Belen Succi is rated as one of the best in the business, while Carla Rebecchi (nominee: 2019 FIH Player of the Year), Delfina Merino (2017 FIH Player of the Year), Maria Granatto (2016 and 2017 FIH Rising Star of the Year) as well as talented youngsters Lucina von der Heyde (2018 FIH Rising Star of the Year) and Julieta Jankunas (nominee: 2019 FIH Rising Star of the Year) - are all exceptional outfield performers. The team is coached by charismatic tactician Carlos Retegui, the man who guided Argentina’s men to Olympic gold at Rio 2016 and also Las Leonas to World Cup glory in 2010.
One to watch: Carla Rebecchi
Returning to the international stage after a three-year absence and less than a year after starting a family, any questions about whether this wonderful attacker could still cut it at the top level were emphatically answered in 2019. She quickly proved that she had lost none of the skill, intelligence and frightening pace that made her both feared and respected in equal measure. Rebecchi scored seven times as Las Leonas claimed the 2019 Pan American Games title to seal their place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This genuine legend of Argentine hockey is now playing a crucial role in developing the next generation.
Click here for Argentina’s roster.
No. 4 Germany
Following their wonderful Olympic bronze medal success at Rio 2016, Germany have continued to look like a team that can challenge the very best in the world. They were terrific in 2019, winning bronze in the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League, silver at the European championships and also securing their ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games thanks to a comfortable victory over Italy in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers. The team coached by former Belgian international Xavier Reckinger really are a class act, and they will be looking to achieve even more in 2020.
The team is captained by hugely experienced defender Janne Müller-Wieland (nominee: 2019 FIH Women’s Player of the Year) while Anne Schröder, Lena Micheel, Elisa Gräve, Nike Lorenz (nominee: 2019 FIH Women’s Rising Star of the Year) and goalkeeper Julia Sonntag are all outstanding performers. Another key player for Die Danas is Charlotte Stapenhorst, an exceptional, unpredictable attacker capable of creating moments of sheer magic. Stapenhorst sustained a serious knee injury in June 2019 that ruled her out for the remainder of the year, although with the Olympic Games on the horizon, Germany’s number 12 will be targeting a return to action during the coming FIH Hockey Pro League season.
One to Watch: Janne Müller-Wieland
Germany’s captain is fantastic and an inspirational player who very much leads by example. A brave and brilliant defender who regularly steps into midfield, Müller-Wieland was outstanding throughout 2019 as she guided Die Danas to FIH Hockey Pro League bronze, European silver and qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Click here for Germany’s roster.
No. 5 Great Britain
If the Olympic champions of Rio 2016 are to defend their title at Tokyo 2020, a strong showing in the second edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League could prove to be an important step toward achieving that goal. Following Olympic gold medal-winning head coach Danny Kerry’s switch to the England and Great Britain men’s program in 2018, the responsibility for preparing GB for Tokyo is now in the hands of former Australian international striker Mark Hager, a man who worked wonders in New Zealand with the women’s Black Sticks team.
Great Britain’s performances in the inaugural edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League were well below expectations, winning just three matches outright and claiming two bonus point victories. However, they ended their campaign on a high note, defeating New Zealand 3-1 in front of 12,000 fans at the Twickenham Stoop. A 5-1 aggregate victory over Chile in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers ensured that Great Britain will have the chance to defend their Olympic title and the training group going into 2020 contains seven gold medalists from Rio 2016. Two-time FIH Goalkeeper of the Year Maddie Hinch, defensive trio Hollie Pearne-Webb, Giselle Ansley and Laura Unsworth, midfielders Susannah Townsend and Shona McCallin and forward Lily Owsley were all winners in Brazil, while star striker Alex Danson, another gold medalist from Rio, has rejoined the training squad after a long period on the sidelines due to a non-sport related head injury. While the majority of the Great Britain squad is made up of players who represent England, a trio of Scottish players and two from Wales are also featured. Sarah Robertson, Amy Costello and Charlotte Watson are all Scottish internationals, while Wales is represented by Sarah Jones and the remarkable Leah Wilkinson, who made her Great Britain debut in October 2019 at the age of 32 a few months after becoming the most capped Welsh sporting athlete of all time.
One to Watch: Lily Owsley
Blisteringly quick with an eye for goal, attacking star Owsley is blessed with all of the attributes that give defenders nightmares. She made her senior international debut in 2013 at the age of 18 and within three years was a European and Olympic champion, with England and Great Britain respectively. Having only turned 25 in December 2019, Owsley’s best years may still be ahead of her.
Click here for Great Britain’s roster.
No. 6 New Zealand
The Black Sticks have been outstanding performers over the last decade, regularly getting themselves in contention for podium finishes. Fourth place finishes at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games split by a fifth-place finish at the 2014 Hockey World Cup has proven something of a frustration, but their gold medal success at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games showed that they are more than capable of winning titles. The team once again found themselves sitting top of the podium in 2019, defeating host nation Australia at the Oceania Cup to guarantee their participation in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Brilliant attacking midfielder and team captain Stacey Michelsen (nominee: 2019 FIH Women’s Player of the Year) is widely regarded as the superstar of the Black Sticks squad that is blessed with seven players who have represented their country over 200 times. One of those players is Olivia Merry (nominee: 2019 FIH Women’s Player of the Year), who was the top scorer in the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League with 15 goals to enhance her reputation as one of the most ruthless finishers in world hockey. The team is coached by former Ireland international Graham Shaw, the man who guided Ireland to a remarkable silver medal at the 2018 Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup, defying all expectations with a team came into the event ranked 16th in the world. Shaw has been boosted by the return of several highly experienced former players, the most notable being four-time Olympian Kayla Whitelock (née Sharland) and three-time Olympian Gemma McCaw (née Flynn), adding even more talent and know-how to the group. It will be fascinating to see how they perform in 2020.
One to Watch: Stacey Michelsen
Widely regarded as one of the world’s most skillful players, Michelsen has effortlessly transitioned from a defender into a midfielder in recent years and is very much the creative heartbeat of the Black Sticks team. The New Zealand captain was named FIH Young Player of the Year for 2011 and was shortlisted for the FIH Player of the Year Award in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
Click here for New Zealand’s roster.
No. 10 China
China, silver medalists at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, showed flashes of brilliance in the inaugural edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, beating Germany, New Zealand and USA at home as well as recording a stunning 2-1 victory over reigning Olympic champions Great Britain in London. Twelve different players registered goals for China in last year’s competition, with Gu Bingfeng, Peng Yang, Guo Qiu and Zhang Xiaoxue topping the scoring with four goals each as China finished seventh in the nine-team competition.
Head coach Huang Yongsheng - who guided China to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games thanks to a shootout victory against Belgium in the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier - has every reason to believe that his rapidly improving team can outdo their 2019 FIH Hockey Pro League performances in 2020. As well as the aforementioned players, Huang can call upon the services of two world class goalkeepers in Li Dongxiao (nominee: 2015 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year) and Ye Jiao (nominee: 2018 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year).
China is also fortunate to have one of the world's most exciting young players amongst their ranks, with 20-year-old Zhong Jiaqi looking to continue the fine form that earned her a nomination for the 2019 FIH Rising Star of the Year award.
One to Watch: Cui Quixia
Having represented her country at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as well as the Hockey World Cups in both 2014 and 2018, defender Cui is one of the most experienced players in the China team and has a reputation for putting her body on the line. The 29-year-old is China’s captain, a position she has held since 2014.
Click here for China’s roster.
No. 12 Belgium
Belgium was the lowest ranked of all the teams that competed in the inaugural edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, but that did not stop them from achieving some exceptional results. The Red Panthers defeated eventual silver medalists Australia both home and away, and also earned fine wins against Olympic champions Great Britain (home), New Zealand (away), USA (home) and China (home). Finishing fifth in the nine-team competition and ahead of four higher ranked nations, the 2017 European silver medalists certainly justified their place at the top table of international hockey.
As well as defeating China in the home fixture in Brussels, Belgium also claimed two points from a possible three in the away match in Changzhou, with the Red Panthers winning a shootout after regular time finished 3-3. These positive results gave the team coached by Niels Thijssen high hopes going into their FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier clash against China in Changzhou, but an agonizing shootout loss after the aggregate scoreline finished 3-3 ended Belgium’s hopes of participating in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Despite that painful defeat, Belgium will be looking to remind everyone of their quality in the forthcoming FIH Hockey Pro League season and certainly have the players capable of doing the job. Team captain Barbara Nelen and fellow midfielder Alix Gerniers are both members of the 200-cap club, while forward Louise Versavel, goalkeeper Aisling D’Hooghe and teenage attacker Ambre Ballenghien were all outstanding performers in the first edition of the competition and will be looking to once again make their mark in season two.
One to Watch: Alix Gerniers
A star in midfield for the Red Panthers, Gerniers is an energetic and tireless player who creates and scores with regularity. The 26-year-old has made over 200 appearances for her country, being a key player in the Belgium team that claimed European silver in 2017. Scored four times in the 2019 edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League, more than any other player in her team.
Click here for Belgium’s roster.
No. 13 USA
By their own very high standards, USA endured a fairly difficult 2019. Their FIH Hockey Pro League campaign started in positive fashion, claiming a 2-2 away draw against Pan American rivals Argentina before missing out on the bonus point by losing the shootout. From that point onward the young Americans found points hard to come by in the inaugural season, amassing just seven in 16 matches to finish bottom of the standings in ninth position. A bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Lima was a positive sign, but the failure to defend the consecutive titles won in 2011 and 2015 meant that hopes of reaching the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games now rested solely on the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier, where they faced a daunting away match against India in Bhubaneswar. A 5-1 first leg defeat against the hosts appeared to have ended USA’s Olympic dream, but a remarkable four goal burst in the first half of the second leg leveled the aggregate score at 5-5, with Amanda Magadan (2), captain Kathleen Sharkey and Alyssa Parker all on target. However, there was to be a sting in the tail, with India captain Rani breaking American hearts with a fourth quarter strike to give the home favorites the ticket to Tokyo.
It was recently announced that former Dutch international Janneke Schopman, who guided the team to a hugely impressive fifth place as an assistant coach at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, had left her position as USA’s head coach. However, her unwavering commitment to give young players the chance to shine on the international stage - 14 players who competed in the inaugural FIH Hockey Pro League were aged between 17 and 22 - may well benefit the USA international team for many years to come. In January 2020, USA Field Hockey named former defender Caroline Nelson-Nicols - who earned 165 caps between 2007 and 2014, competing at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games - as the new women's head coach.
One to Watch: Amanda Magadan
A member of USA’s senior squad since 2017, Magadan has been able to performance when it matters. Point in take when competing at the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifier, she produced two superb goals. Her go-getter demeanor and skill gives her the burst of speed she needs down the sideline as a midfielder.
Click here for USA’s roster.