Olympic Qualifier Kakamigahara 2012
Kakamigahara, Japan - April 25 - 5, 2012


And then there were two

April 24, 2012
Olympic qualifier kicks off tomorrow with last two London spots on the line

On the eve of the final FIH

Olympic Qualification tournament in Kakamigahara, Japan, 12 teams are dreaming of a berth to the London 2012 Games and only two will see it become a reality. Meanwhile, the world awaits the Olympic field to be completed as the winners here will be the last two to join the field in London.

On the women’s side, host Japan will be joined by Austria, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Chile and Malaysia. The Japanese women must be considered the clear favorite to win the title and a spot in the London Games. The ninth spot in the World Ranking, combined with Japan's most recent title at the Champions Challenge 1 last Spring in Dublin, gives them experienc and depth that is well beyond any of the other teams at this event.

But as the Spanish women learned at the most recent qualification tournament in Belgium, World Ranking means little when teams are battling for an Olympic berth and anything is possible on the road to London. The most likely opponent to challenge Japan for the tournament win here is upstart Azerbaijan, which narrowly missed the Beijing Olympics in the last cycle and has one of the older, more experienced teams here in Japan. The Japanese women and Azerbaijan were both at the Champions Challenge 1 in Dublin, where Azerbaijan took fourth place, well behind the Japanese.

The second tier of teams could prove for interesting competition as the quartet is more or less playing at the same level. All four teams were at the most recent Champion Challenge 2, played last May in Vienna, and 22nd-ranked Belarus came away with the bragging rights after narrowly defeating #17 Chile in a penalty shootout in the final game. Malaysia earned a sixth-place finish at the event, while Austria, the lowest ranked team at this qualification tournament (#29) finished winless.

While anything is possible in the upcoming week, the two teams most likely to break out of the four lower-seeded teams and compete for the London berth would have to be Azerbaijan or Belarus, which are more than capable of bridging the gap between the two Champions Challenge levels.

The men’s tournament is a wide-open affair with a mere five World Ranking spot separating the top three squads. South Africa comes in at the top of the group with the #12 spot in the FIH World Ranking. The South Africans will look to both join their women at the London Games and earn redemption after their third-place finish at last November’s Champions Challenge 1 left them just shy of qualifying automatically for the Games.

Nipping at the heels of the South Africans will be #15 Japan and #17 China. Both have had good results of late, but despite the closeness in the World Ranking, Japan has emerged as the stronger contender of the two and has played at a higher level than China in recent events. Japan finished well behind South Africa at the Champion Challenge in November, taking seventh place, but the head-to-head game between the two was quite close with South Africa winning, 3-2.

China, Austria (#21) and the Czech Republic (#23) all met at the last Champions Challenge 2 level, where the Czech Republic had the best finish of the three, beating the Chinese 4-3 for fifth place. Austria finished in last place at the event.

Rounding out the men's field is Brazil, which despite its #42 ranking, is making strides with its national team program in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio. While Brazil will be well out of contention for any title here in Kakamigahara, they are already starting to visibly improve their national team program and any national level experience is valuable for the nation in the next four years.

The women’s tournament kicks off tomorrow with the start of the round robin phase. The men and women will alternate round robin days with three games being played every day between April 25 and May 6. The women’s finals will be played on May 5th and the last London team will be determined on May 6th when the men’s champion is crowned.

All games will be covered on the FIH website and also via twitter (FIH_Hockey). The Japanese games will be broadcast on NHK, and the final game days will be available via live streaming through the FIH website.

All games will be covered on the FIH website and also via twitter (FIH_Hockey). The Japanese games will be broadcast on NHK, and the final game days will be available via live streaming through the FIH website.


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