(Photo: Treeby Images)

With the start of the hugely-anticipated Rabobank Hockey World Cup rapidly approaching, we bring you the first of two team-focused tournament previews ahead of tournament Day 1 in The Hague.  Today we take a closer look at all 12 teams that will do battle in what promises to be a truly epic men’s competition. Tomorrow, we will switch our focus to the 12 women’s national sides that will fight for the right to be crowned as the greatest team on earth. More information about the teams including complete squad lists can be found on the following link: http://www.rabobankhockeyworldcup2014.com/countries . Enjoy!


Pool A
– Australia, England, Belgium, India, Spain, Malaysia

Australia
Current FIH World Ranking:
1
How they qualified:
Continental champions of Oceania
Rank in previous editions:
1971 – 8th, 1975 – 5th, 1978 – 3rd, 1982 – 3rd, 1986 – 1st, 1990 – 3rd, 1994 – 3rd, 1998 – 4th, 2002 – 2nd, 2006 – 2nd, 2010 – 1st
About the team:
Reigning World Champions Australia come into the Rabobank Hockey World Cup as the number one ranked team and have set themselves the clear target of defending the title they won in New Delhi, India four years ago. Legendary coach Ric Charlesworth – who recently announced his intention to step down after the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland – has named a squad packed full of tried and tested world class players along with a sprinkling of fresh talent. Four players – Rob Hammond, Liam de Young, Mark Knowles and 35-year-old striker and five times FIH Player of the Year Jamie Dwyer – are all Gold medalists from the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and were central figures in the squad that won the 2010 World Cup. Kieran Govers, Fergus Kavanagh, Glenn Turner, Simon Orchard, Matthew Swann and brilliant attacker Eddie Ockenden were also members of the 2010 team, ensuring that there is plenty of Hockey World Cup experience within the group. The youngest member of the squad is Jeremy Hayward, a 21-year-old attacker who recently made his senior international tournament debut at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, impressing with three goals as “The Kookaburras” claimed the title. Australia are widely expected to be among the frontrunners for the Gold medal, and could take some stopping.


England
Current FIH World Ranking:
4
How they qualified:
3rd place – Hockey World League Semi-Final, Johor Bahru (MAS)
Rank in previous editions:
1973 – 6th, 1975 – 6th, 1978 – 7th, 1982 – 8th, 1986 – 2nd, 1990 – 5th, 1994 – 6th, 1998 – 6th, 2002 – 7th, 2006 – 5th, 2010 – 4th 
About the team:
As expected, England coach Bobby Crutchley has named his strongest possible squad for this tournament, with experienced trio Ashley Jackson, Simon Mantell, and Nick Catlin being selected alongside brilliant captain Barry Middleton, a player considered to be among the very best attackers in the game. However, the team will be without defender and penalty corner specialist Richard Smith, who looks likely to miss all of the 2014 calendar due to knee surgery. Midfield ace Adam Dixon, who has been one of England’s star performers over the past 18 months, has also been selected despite recently suffering ligament damage whilst representing his club side Beeston in the Euro Hockey League.  England claimed a fifth place finish in the 2006 Hockey World Cup in Mönchengladbach (GER) and went one better at the 2010 event in New Delhi (IND) by finishing fourth.  Their talented, fit and well-drilled squad certainly has the potential to get among the medals in The Hague. 

Belgium
Current FIH World Ranking:
5
How they qualified:
1st place – Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Final, Rotterdam (NED)
Rank in previous editions:
1973 – 8th, 1978 – 14th, 1994 – 11th, 2002 – 14th
About the team:
Competing in their first World Cup since the 2002 event in Kuala Lumpur (MAS), Belgium have made incredible strides forward over the past few years. Head coach Marc Lammers, the legendary Dutchman who guided the Netherlands women to Olympic Gold at Beijing 2008, has moulded the “Red Lions” into one of the most feared attacking sides in the world, a fact proven by two victories over reigning World Champions Australia on their way to winning the Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Final event in Rotterdam last summer. The Belgium side that competes in The Hague is hugely experienced, with ten players having surpassed the 100 international appearances mark – Xavier Reckinger (310+ caps), John-John Dohmen (260+), Jerome Truyens (260+), Cedric Charlier (170+), Thomas Briels (200+), Felix Denayer (170+), Alex de Saedeleer (170+), Simon Gougnard (140+), Elliot van Strydonck (100+) and goal machine Tom Boon (150+). Despite their vast on-field experience, the fact that this group contains just one player over 27 – 30-year-old Xavier Reckinger – suggests that this talented pool of players are likely to remain together for many years to come. Although Belgium were narrowly beaten by Olympic Champions Germany in the final of the TriFinance EuroHockey Nations Continental Championship last summer, they will come into the Rabobank Hockey World Cup knowing they are serious contenders.

India
Current FIH World Ranking:
8
How they qualified:
6th place – Hockey World League Semi-Final, Rotterdam (NED)
Rank in previous editions:
1971 – 3rd, 1973 – 2nd, 1975 – 1st, 1978 – 6th, 1982 – 5th, 1986 – 12th, 1990 – 10th, 1994 – 5th, 1998 – 9th, 2002 – 10th, 2006 – 11th, 2010 – 8th
About the team:
Although many have written off India’s chances of a podium finish, there are some – most notably Hockey India’s High Performance Director and legendary Dutch coach Roelant Oltmans – who believe that the side are making big strides in the right direction and could well surprise in The Hague. Current head coach and former Australian international Terry Walsh has been working hard to enhance India’s physical and mental strength ahead of this tournament in a bid to give his charges the best possible chance of success. Walsh has selected a team which is still very much focused on the future, with only four members of the Hockey World Cup squad having surpassed the 100 cap marker – Gurbaj Singh (150+ caps), S.V. Sunil (130+), V.R. Raghunath (150+) and inspirational captain Sardar Singh (180+). Giant drag-flicking defender Raghunath and classy midfielder Sardar are the stars of the show, but lively 19-year-old striker Mandeep Singh is another player well worth keeping an eye on. India’s young guns claimed an extremely creditable second place finish behind Korea at the 2013 Asia Cup, and will be hoping to continue their rapid development in The Hague.     

Spain
Current FIH World Ranking:
10
How they qualified:
5th place – Hockey World League Semi-Final, Rotterdam (NED)
Rank in previous editions: 1971 – 2nd, 1973 – 5th, 1975 – 8th, 1978 – 5th, 1982 – 11th, 1986 – 5th, 1990 – 8th, 1994 – 9th, 1998 – 2nd, 2002 – 11th, 2006 – 3rd, 2010 – 5th
About the team: 
With fifth place finishes in both the TriFinance EuroHockey Championships (Boom, BEL) and the Hockey World League Semi-Final (Rotterdam, NED), it is fair to say that 2013 was not the best of years for Spain. That being said, they have more than enough big game players in their team to perform well above what their 10th place in the FIH World Ranking would suggest. The squad selected by head coach Salva Indurain contains eight survivors from the side that claimed Olympic Silver at the Beijing 2008 Games, including attacking superstars Santi Freixa and Eduard Tubau; brilliant shot-stopper Quico Cortes as well as talented siblings Ramon and David Alegre. Roc Oliva, Sergi Enrique and Eduard Arbos were also members of the “class of 2008”, ensuring that the squad contains plenty of world class experience. As well as their tried and tested campaigners the team also contains a number of promising youngsters who are very much the future of the Spanish team. The pick of the bunch is 23-year-old speed merchant Xavi Lleonart, who has the potential to be a big star at this Hockey World Cup. Spain come into the Rabobank Hockey World Cup on the back of winning a four nations invitational tournament in Barcelona, defeating Wales (5-0), Russia (4-3) and Ireland (4-2) to finish top of the standings.


Malaysia
Current FIH World Ranking:
13
How they qualified:
5th place – Hockey World League Semi-Final, Johor Bahru (MAS)
Rank in previous editions: 1973 – 11th, 1975 – 4th, 1978 – 10th, 1982 – 10th, 1998 – 11th, 2002 – 8th
About the team: Making their first World Cup appearance since the 2002 event on home soil in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia will arrive in The Hague in high spirits following a decent run of form. The team claimed a second place finish behind world number 1 and fellow Pool A rivals Australia in March’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (Ipoh, MAS) before taking Bronze at the recent Champions Challenge 1 event (Kuantan, MAS), their first ever medal in Champions Challenge competition. They will be hoping that their recent progression will be the springboard to even greater accomplishments in The Hague. The team is coached by former Malaysian international Muhammad Dhaarma Raj, who stepped up from coaching the men’s U-21 team following the recent departure of South Africa’s Paul Revington. The Malaysia side selected for the World Cup contains seven players who have made more than 200 international appearances – Azlan Misron (330+ caps), Mohamad Sukri Abdul Mutalib (210+), Mohd Sharun Nabil Abdullah (210+), Nabil Fiqri Mohd Noor (210+), Kumar Subramiam (goalkeeper - 210+) Muhammad Razie Abdul Rahim (200+) and Roslan Jamaluddin (goalkeeper – 200+). Despite being the lowest ranked team in the competition, there is more than enough quality in this Malaysia side to cause problems for any opponent.



Pool B: Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Korea, Argentina, South Africa

Germany
Current FIH World Ranking:
2
How they qualified:
Continental champions of Europe
Rank in previous editions*:
1971 – 5th, 1973 – 3rd, 1975 – 3rd, 1978 – 4th, 1982 – 2nd, 1986 – 3rd, 1990 – 4th, 1994 – 4th, 1998 – 3rd, 2002 – 1st, 2006 – 1st, 2010 – 2nd
About the team:
2013 was yet another great year for Germany, the 2006 World Champions. Building on an incredible 2012 which saw the side become Olympic Champions for the second time in succession, the team coached by Markus Weise powered to glory at the TriFinance EuroHockey Nations continental championships before taking a first place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johor Bahru. As well as this, the under-21 team produced a string of sensational performances to win the Hero Hockey Junior World Cup in New Delhi (IND), providing plenty of evidence that the European giants are likely to remain a global force for many years to come. At the start of 2014, a weakened Germany team could only manage a disappointing 7th place finish at the Hero Hockey World League Final in New Delhi, India. However, you can be certain that the Olympic Gold medallists will be back to their very best in The Hague. The 18-player squad named for the event contains some of the game's most gifted players, including sensational strikers Christopher Zeller and Florian Fuchs as well as world class defenders Max Müller and Martin Häner. Another player worth noting is 20-year-old Christopher Rühr, an explosive game-changer who netted nine goals at the Junior World Cup before being named 2013 FIH Young Player of the Year. Sadly, the Hockey World Cup has arrived too soon for 2012 FIH Player of the Year Moritz Fürste, who misses the event after failing to sufficiently recover from a cruciate ligament injury sustained in March. However, two other injury hit players have made the squad, with Oliver Korn and Tobias Hauke both being named. Korn has recovered from an appendix operation in February, while 2013 FIH Player of the Year Hauke is likely to play the event wearing a protective mask after suffering a facial injury in training.
* includes results representing West Germany between 1971 and 1990.

Netherlands
Current FIH World Ranking:
3
How they qualified:
Host nation
Rank in previous editions:
1971 – 6th, 1973 – 1st, 1975 – 9th, 1978 – 2nd, 1982 – 4th, 1986 – 7th, 1990 – 1st, 1994 – 2nd, 1998 – 1st, 2002 – 3rd, 2006 – 7th, 2010 – 3rd
About the team:
By their own very high standards, host nation and 2012 Olympic Silver medallists the Netherlands had a disappointing 2013 thanks to third place finishes at the TriFinance EuroHockey Nations continental championship in Belgium and the Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Final on home soil. However, the European giants started 2014 in stunning fashion when they powered to the victory in the Hero Hockey World League Final, thrashing New Zealand 7-2 in the Gold medal match. The result sent out a strong message that the team are more than ready to challenge for their first Hockey World Cup title since 1998, an event which also took place on Dutch soil in the city of Utrecht. The Netherlands squad contains a glittering array of world class talent including midfield dynamo Robert van der Horst, playmaker Billy Bakker and quicksilver goal-scorer Jeroen Hertzberger, while powerhouse defender Mink van der Weerden is arguably the best penalty corner flicker in the world. With the passionate home fans cheering their every move, expect the Netherlands to be competing for top honours at the Kyocera Stadium.

New Zealand
Current FIH World Ranking:
6
How they qualified:
4th place – Rabobank Hockey World League Semi-Final, Rotterdam (NED)
Rank in previous editions: 1973 – 7th, 1975 – 7th, 1982 – 7th, 1986 – 9th, 1998 – 10th, 2002 – 9th, 2006 – 8th, 2010 – 9th
About the team
: New Zealand come into the Rabobank Hockey World Cup on the back of a disappointing Champions Challenge 1 tournament in Kuantan, Malaysia. Following a Silver medal winning performance in the Hero Hockey World League Final event in India at the start of the year, the Black Sticks were seen as heavy favourites for the Gold medal at the Champions Challenge 1. However, an agonising shoot-out defeat in their quarter-final match against Malaysia meant that they would compete in the classification matches for the 5-8 positions. New Zealand eventually finished in fifth place thanks to impressive victories over Poland (6-1) and France (6-3), and will be fiercely determined to get among the medals in The Hague. Head coach Colin Batch – a member of the triumphant Australia squad that won the 1986 World Cup in London – has made no alterations to the squad that competed in Kuantan, naming 13 players who have surpassed the 100 international appearances marker. Dazzling striker Simon Child is a member of the 200 cap club, while veteran attacker Phil Burrows and team captain Dean Couzins have both played over 300 times for their country. A shot at the medals is well within their capabilities. 

Korea
Current FIH World Ranking:
7
How they qualified:
Continental champions of Asia
Rank in previous editions:
1994 – 8th, 1998 – 7th, 2002 – 4th, 2006 – 4th, 2010 – 6th
About the team:
Korea enter the Rabobank Hockey World Cup as the continental champions of Asia, a title that they claimed in Malaysia last year thanks to victory over India in the final of the Asia Cup in Ipoh. The team coached by Shin Seok Kyo recently returned to Malaysian soil and claimed another success, winning the Pahang Champions Challenge 1 event in Kuantan to secure their place in the 2016 edition of the elite Champions Trophy. The team are currently riding high on a wave of confidence, making them a team to be feared in The Hague.  The Korean squad contains a huge amount of international experience, with only four players having played less than 100 games for their country. The 18 member team have a combined total of over 2600 international appearances, which is an average of over 145 caps per player. Six players have surpassed the 200 caps mark - You Hyo Sik, Yoon Sung Hoon, Hong Eun Seong, Jang Jong Hyun, captain Lee Nam Yong and goalkeeper Lee Myung Ho.

Argentina
Current FIH World Ranking:
11
How they qualified:
Continental champions of Pan America
Rank in previous editions:
1971 – 10th, 1973 – 9th, 1975 – 11th, 1978 – 8th, 1982 – 12th, 1986 – 6th, 1990 – 9th, 1994 – 7th, 2002 – 6th, 2006 – 10th, 2010 – 7th
About the team:
Pan American Champions Argentina have always produced international teams with plenty of talent, but over the past 18 months the current men’s team has developed into a side that can challenge the very best in the world. Coach Carlos Retegui is overseeing the revolution, helping “Los Leones” (The Lions) to realise their massive potential. Retegui is the man who guided Argentina women to World Cup glory in 2010 and, following his recent reappointment to head coach of “Las Leonas” (The Lionesses), will be targeting podium finishes with both the men’s and women’s teams. If he manages to pull it off it will be a truly staggering achievement, but it certainly promises to be a busy two week period for the charismatic former Argentine international. The South Americans may be among the lowest ranked teams in the competition, but their superb recent form and fearless attacking style provides plenty of evidence that they should not be underestimated. They have shown glimpses of sheer brilliance in the past year, with their second place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johor Bahru (MAS) and rampant displays on route to winning the Pan American Cup proving to be real head-turners. Star players include free-scoring attackers Lucas Vila, Matias Paredes and Facundo Callioni as well as rising star Gonzalo Peillat, the 21-year-old defender who is already considered to be one of the finest penalty corner drag-flickers in the game. 

South Africa
Current FIH World Ranking:
12
How they qualified:
Continental champions of Africa
Rank in previous editions:
1994 – 10th, 2002 – 13th, 2006 – 12th, 2010 – 10th
About the team:
African champions South Africa will be taking part in their fourth successive World Cup following appearances in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Their 10th place finish at the 2010 World Cup in New Delhi was their joint highest finish in World Cup history, matching their efforts at the 1994 event in Sydney, Australia.  Surpassing that achievement will be the minimum that head coach Fabian Gregory – who took the hot-seat in February this year in place of Charlie Pereira – will expect from his players in The Hague. Team captain and defensive lynchpin Austin Smith is always a key performer for South Africa, but the side is also boosted by the return of prolific penalty corner expert Justin Reid-Ross, who will compete in his first major international hockey tournament since the London 2012 Olympic Games. Defender Reid-Ross has had an outstanding season with Dutch club side Pinoké, and has just signed a deal to join Amsterdam H&BC, one of the highest profile clubs in world hockey.