So how have the qualified teams performed at previous world cups?
England’s women go into the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup as one of the favourites with many of their players still on a high after winning Olympic gold for Great Britain back at Rio 2016. Despite not having won the World Cup before, England have been making steady progress in recent years. In addition to their Olympic success they won a bronze medal at the 2010 World Cup and were the European Champions in 2015. With world-class players including FIH Hockey Stars Goalkeeper of the Year 2016 Maddie Hinch, Captain Alex Danson and fellow Olympic gold medallists Laura Unsworth, Susannah Townsend and Giselle Ansley within their ranks, they have talent in abundance. Home support will be crucial for England with their passionate fans capable of inspiring them to a historic first World Cup title. On home turf such a triumph would certainly rank up there alongside their Rio success.
Agustin Corradini, the head coach to Argentina, has been rebuilding his team after a below-par performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics. There have been many signs that Las Leonas are approaching their mesmerising best, not least the way they dominated the pool stages of the HWL Semi-Final in Johannesburg. However a 2-1 loss to Germany in the semi-final and a 5-2 loss to England in the third place match will be a reminder that there is still work to be done to see this team reach its potential.
Argentina has a proud and illustrious history at World Cup events. They have been at every event since the first edition in 1974 and, in those 13 appearances, Las Leonas has taken three bronze medals, three silvers and two gold medals. The most recent of these was a glorious home victory in Rosario in 2010, when Luciana Aymar was the star of the show. At the Hague in 2014, Aymar and her colleagues had to settle for bronze but this new talented team will have its eye firmly on the top spot in London a year from now.
Australia came to the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels full of hope for the new look squad. A chastening fifth place finish will have given Head Coach Paul Gaudoin plenty to think about between now and next year. Poor performances against Oceania rivals New Zealand and China were the team’s undoing and the Hockeyroos found themselves out of the Hockey World League Final and fighting a battle with Italy to qualify for the Hockey World Cup. But Australia is nation that is used to producing winners and with goalscorers such as Kathryn Slattery, Madi Ratcliffe, Georgina Morgan and Emily Smith in the side, along with the wise and contemplative Rachael Lynch and Jane Claxton, it is hard not to see Australia hitting the sort of form that is clearly in their reach. Australia’s history at the World Cup is a bright one. Two times champions, albeit back in 1994 and 1998; three times runners-up, including in the Hague in 2014; and a third place finish in 1983 is not a bad return. The Hockeyroos have been at every World Cup since 1981 and will have high hopes of adding to their medal tally in 2018.
The Red Panthers had an anxious wait to see if they had qualified for the 2018 World Cup but now they know they are booked in, they will be looking to build on the momentum they have picked up under the guidance of new head coach Niels Thiessen.
“We feel we have just started with this group” says the head coach as he describes how his coaching staff will be working with the squad to ensure they are physically fit enough to perform at the highest tempo for the duration of the game.
The new coaching team only had a short period with the squad in the run-up to the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels and the EuroHockey Championships but they left those tournaments with a qualification for the World Cup and a silver medal at the European continental championships. Thiessen now has eight months to prepare his team for this challenge so who knows what the Belgium squad could do in London?
China’s first appearance at a World Cup came in 1990, when they finished sixth. The highest finish for the Asian team was in 2002, when they broke the hearts of the host nation, Australia, to take the bronze medal. China has been at every World Cup since but the team’s record is not great. In the Hague in 2014, it was another sixth place finish, when they lost 4-0 to New Zealand. Many of the 2014 team are now senior members of the squad and, in Brussels at the Hockey World League Semi-Final, China looked in a good state. They began slowly, as is their habit at major events, but they were strong from the quarter-finals onwards, and took the game to the Netherlands in the final. Ominously for their opponents, the Head Coach suggested that this was not necessarily the squad that would be seen at the World Cup, several stronger players would be returning to the squad after recovering from injuries.
Two gold medals and a total of six medals from World Cup appearances makes Germany the fourth most successful team in women’s World Cup history but that has not been true of the past few years. Where Die Danas’ early performances were a string of first to fourth place finishes, since 2002 the team has recorded seventh, two eighth places and a fourth place.
However, Germany is a team that has been making steady and planned progress. Head coach Jamison Mulders took control at the end of 2012 and in that time his team has won EuroHockey gold (2013), third in the 2015 Hockey World League Final and bronze at the Rio Olympics. The team sealed its place in London 2018 when it beat South Africa to reach the semi-finals. This was followed by a stunningly composed performance in the semi-finals to beat Argentina – a performance that showed just what the squad is capable of.
Ireland women will be making their first Hockey World Cup appearance since 2002, having been assured of a ticket to London on the back of a strong Hockey World League campaign and results going their way in the Continental Championships. The Green Army performed well at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, claiming seventh place thanks to a battling 2-1 win over India in their final match which left them on the verge of World Cup qualification. Their Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup spot was finalised a few months later when Australia and New Zealand - two teams that had already achieved qualification for London - reached the final of the Oceania Cup Continental Championship, opening the door for Ireland who were next in line.
After a 16 year absence, Ireland can now look forward to competing in their fourth Women’s Hockey World Cup following appearances at the Amsterdam 1986 (NED), Dublin 1994 (IRL) and Perth 2002 (AUS) events. Their best finishing position came on home soil at Dublin 1994, where the they finished in 11th place. The team coached by former Ireland men’s international Graham Shaw has more than enough talent to outstrip their previous best performance. With over 250 international appearances to her name, the influential Shirley McCay commands respect both on and off the field, while quicksilver attacker Anna O’Flanagan has earned a reputation as a feared goal-scorer who can turn a game in the blink of an eye.
Italy women qualified for the Hockey Women’s World Cup 2018 by virtue of a sixth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels. This will be Italy’s first appearance at the event since 1976, when they finished 10th.
Qualification for the event is a remarkable achievement for the European team, who are ranked 15th in the world and arrived at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals as outsiders for qualification. Two draws with Korea and China, who were ranked several places higher, and a win over Scotland was enough to propel Italy into a finishing position that would give them a good opportunity to qualify for the World Cup. Of all the teams travelling to London next summer, Italy is one of the shining examples of the opportunities offered by the Hockey World League for a lower-ranked team to improve and progress.
Thanks to host nation England finishing in the top five in Johannesburg at the HWL Semi-Final, the sixth place finisher at the event also qualified for the 2018 World Cup. So, despite losing to a lower-ranked South Africa (WR: 13) in the fifth/sixth play-off, Japan (WR: 11) will be making their eighth appearance at the World Cup. The Cherry Blossom’s 1-0 win in Johannesburg over England (WR: 2) and 2-0 victory against Asian rivals India (WR: X) is a sign that coach Anthony Farry is getting his team to a place where they can compete with the top teams.
Japan first contested a World Cup in 1978, where they finished in a creditable sixth place. Since then, their highest position was fifth in Madrid in 2006. With Tokyo 2020 just three years away, Japan’s national team will be looking for a good performance in London as a precursor to a successful performance in front of home crowds just two years later.
Korea has been to the past eight World Cup competitions, although the performances, with the exception of a bronze medal in 1990, have been mediocre. Two fifth place finishes, two sixth place, a seventh and a ninth indicate that Korea is a team that is lacking the final polish that turns a consistent team into a Championship winning team. The Korea performance in Brussels at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals confirmed this analysis. Korea were good enough to reach the semi-finals but couldn’t match China for tactical nous or New Zealand for physicality. They also lost 9-0 to a rampant Netherlands earlier in the tournament. That said, in Cheon Seul Ki and Cheon Eunbi, Korea has excellent goal scorers and their defence is disciplined and hard-working. In the next 12 months, Coach Huh Sang Young will be looking to add some physical strength and to find a way for his skillful side to outmanoeuvre the opposition. As captain Kim Jongen said at the end of the Hockey World League Semi-Final: “Every time we play an European side, we learn a little more.”
India women’s hockey team has been making steady progress in the past few years, moving up the FIH Hero Hockey World Rankings as well as making the cut for the major events. They qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games on the back of a strong Hockey World League campaign in 2015 and they have now earned their place in London after a convincing win over their Asia rivals in the Women’s Asia Cup.
Ranked 12th in the world, India will bring to London all the flair and style that the hockey-loving nation is famous for, plus the work ethic and structure that has developed as a result of their experiences at Hockey World League and the 2016 Olympics. In Rani, Savita, Vandana Katariya and Navjot Naur, they have tonnes of experience – and in Harendra Singh, they have a head coach who seems to have already tapped into the team’s psyche to produce a winning mentality.
Easily the team with the most impressive World Cup history. The Oranje, as the Dutch team is known, has won the World Cup on seven occasions and is the current World Cup holder, having marched imperiously to the title in the Hague in 2014. On that occasion, the Netherlands celebrated the win in a stadium of 15,000 people, the majority of whom were cloaked in orange. Many of the team that played that day say it was the best moment of their hockey career – Carlien Dirkse van den Heuval added that it surpassed the gold medal performance at the London Olympics. Netherlands first win came at the first FIH Women’s World Cup in 1974; they had a spell of three consecutive wins in 1983, 1986 and 1990; and as winners of the most recent Hockey World League Semi-Final, Head Coach Alyson Annan will be hoping she can lead the team to be just the first nation to win back-to-back titles twice. [Germany are the other nation to win back-to-back at the World Cup].
The Black Sticks have been knocking at the door of a podium finish at a major event for a while now. Fourth place finishes at London 2012, Rio 2016 and the 2015 Hockey World League Semi-Finals all showed that New Zealand was capable of getting into the medals but just fell short on each occasion. A silver in the Hockey World League Final in Rosario in 2015, when they lost to an Argentinian team that was being cheered on by a huge local crowd, must give hope that New Zealand can emulate Las Leonas when the Hockey World League Final takes place in Auckland later this year. 2018 will be New Zealand’s eighth appearance at the World Cup. The first was in 1983 and the team’s best performance was a fourth place in 1986. Mark Hager will be looking for his team to break the fourth-place curse and be among the medals in London.
South Africa booked their place in the World Cup thanks to a strong finish to the HWL Semi-Finals on home turf. Having missed out on the 2016 Olympic Games, this team was determined to ensure they would be on the plane to London next year to contest their sixth World Cup. The African nation has been present at every edition since South Africa was allowed onto the international stage following the end of apartheid.
The best finish by South Africa to date was their first appearance in 1998 when they took seventh place. In the Hague in 2014, they finished ninth, after beating two higher-ranked teams, England and Japan. Having spent one Olympic cycle away from top international competition, South Africa will be keen to prove their credentials and move back up the rankings – they currently sit outside the world’s top 10 in 13th place.
Spain women became the 13th team to qualify for the Hockey Women’s World Cup in London. This will be the Spanish women’s 11th foray into World Cup competition, with a fourth place finish in Madrid in 2006 their highest finishing place to date.
Spain did not qualify for the 2014 World Cup but the team has been going through a revival under their English coach Lock, with a fifth place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and a convincing first place at Hockey World League Round Two in Valencia.
Qualification this time around came after they recorded a seventh place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Brussels. They held their nerve to beat the host nation Belgium in shoot-out and, in doing so, increased their chances of qualifying for next year’s blue riband event.
Netherlands won the EuroHockey Championships, which were Europe’s continental qualifier and, because the Dutch had already qualified as winners of the Hockey World League in Brussels, a qualification spot was left clear for the Red Sticks, who were the next highest ranked finishers over both Hockey World League Semi-Final events (Johannesburg and Brussels).
The USA success story just keeps rolling on. In 2014, USA won the Champions Challenge in Glasgow with a high energy performance that has won them the reputation of the team that just never gives up. This was true of both the semi-final and the final of the HWL Semi-Finals in Johannesburg. First USA came from 1-0 down against England with just three minutes remaining and then they won the subsequent shoot-out. In the final, they were 1-0 down to Germany and, with two minutes remaining, they took the match to shootout - which they won.
London 2018 will be USA’s ninth appearance at a World Cup and they will go to the event full of optimism after a series of good performances in which they have beaten higher-ranked opposition in major competitions. At the 2014 World Cup, the team finished fourth after coming to the Hague ranked 11th in the world. In 2016, they won bronze at the Champions Trophy and finished a strong Olympic campaign in fifth place. They have also won gold at the past two Pan American Games (2011 and 2015). Under coach Janneke Schopman, the team has developed the strategy to match the work ethic.