Indoor action gets underway across Europe
With the three tiers of EuroHockey Indoor Championships taking place this weekend, Stephen Findlater gives his take on the nations and players chasing
Prague, Brussels and Apace await as the women’s leg of the EuroHockey Indoor Championships follows hot on the heels of the men last weekend, promising another three tournaments of high octane action on the boards.
Every game in Prague will be broadcast live via the EHF’s dedicated streaming platform – www.eurohockeytv.org - with the promise of goals galore from Friday, January 19 through to the final playoffs on Sunday, January 21.
Indeed, the top tier features the world’s top-ranked indoor teams and six of the top seven, showing the quality of teams on display in the Czech Republic’s capital.
Chief among them are the number one ranked Netherlands, the 2015 World Cup and 2016 European champions. They can draw on plenty of experience from those teams with World Cup winners Alexandra Heerbaart, Mila Muselaar and Pien van Nes all involved while there are four players from the 2016 success.
Otherwise, it is a young side with four teenagers and a quartet who played in the European Under-21 outdoor competition in Valencia. Of those, Amsterdam’s Marijn Veen is a real star in the making.
The Dutch are drawn in a group with Belarus, Poland and Switzerland with the top two to advance to the semi-finals and the bottom two to go into Pool C, from which the bottom two will be relegated.
Poland were second at the 2016 Euros and fifth at the World Cup, making them a very dangerous and experienced opponent. Indeed, Marlena Rybacha will be lining out in her sixth Euro campaign while next month’s World Cup will be her third.
She played for Dutch club Oranje-Rood, one of two players based in the Netherlands while they have a trio who play with SV Arminen in Austria and another at BTHV Bonner in Germany.
Belarus are a dangerous opponent, too, having finished seventh at the World Cup. They draw heavily from the Victoriya Smolevichi club with eight of their 12 player panel hailing from there.
Switzerland, the tournament’s low-rank side at 19th, were promoted up to the top tier thanks to a second place finish in 2016 in Cambrai in the Championship II.
In Pool B, the hosting Czech Republic are another with bucket loads of experience and they come into the competition with confidence having beaten both Poland and Austria at the Rohrmax Cup a fortnight ago.
Captain Adela Lehovcova and Barbora Haklova are the main goalscorers while goalkeeper Barbora Cechakova – like her captain – is involved for a third Euros.
The team is coached by two legends of the indoor game, Filip Neusser and Tomas Prochazka, and they will be keen to match or better their World Cup bronze from three years ago.
To land that medal, they beat world number two side Germany, one of their group opponents in Prague. Similar to their men’s side, they will employ a very young side with outdoor assistant coach Akim Bouchouchi taking over the coaching from Xavier Reckinger.
Corner shooter Luisa Steindor is the one experienced outfield face in the team who will also be heading to the World Cup in Berlin in February. Eight of the panel will be playing their first international indoor tournament though there is plenty of outdoor international caps between them, including Selin Oruz and Amelie Wortmann.
Ukraine – fifth in Europe in 2016 – prepared for this event with gold at a four-team tournament in Leipzig with three wins from three, beating ATV Leipzig in the final 5-4 with Oksana Ponomarenko named the player of the tournament. Russia, the world number 17, complete the line-up following their golden run in 2016 in the second tier in Cambrai, France.
In Brussels, eight teams will battle for the two promotion spots from the EuroHockey Indoor Championship II. Top ranked Austria (world number 6) line out against England (21), Lithuania (22) and Sweden (28). Hosts Belgium (9) face Scotland (16), Croatia (23) and Wales (24) in Pool B.
In Apace, Slovenia, the host takes on Slovakia and Turkey in a three-team EuroHockey Indoor Championship III on Saturday and Sunday. They will play each other twice during the round-robin phase, culminating in a final on Sunday.
It makes for 47 games over three days at three venues around Europe, showcasing some of the best indoor hockey.
** All EuroHockey Indoor Championships games in Prague will be live streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org.
** As-live video clips from Prague will be posted on the European Hockey Federation Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hashtag (for all social media): #EIH2018
** Follow all the scores in real-time here: http://eurohockey.org/competitions-calendar/