Men's World League Semi Final - Preview

GB national anthems 2015

With Great Britain’s men all set to kick off their World League Semi-Final campaign on Sunday against Belgium we take a look at Bobby Crutchley’s side and the contenders in their pool.

Ranked fifth in the world, Great Britain go into the competition with high hopes. In their pool of Belgium, Malaysia and China, only their European counterparts are above them in the FIH rankings. The World League is a competition that the squad will relish, having captured a bronze medal in the last edition of the competition with a 2-1 win over Australia in the bronze medal match thanks to goals from Tom Carson and skipper Barry Middleton.

There are plenty of reasons for optimism in the current squad. The form of the talismanic Ashley Jackson is one of them. Having taken the crown of England and GB’s all time record goal scorer recently, Jackson is blistering form and can lay claim to being one of the best around. Captain Barry Middleton has almost 350 international appearances to his name and is still the class act he has been for what seems like an eternity, whilst former Ireland International David Ames looks a valuable addition to the squad.

Obviously there are threats in the competition, not least the seemingly perennial clash with hosts, Belgium who are fast becoming a nemesis on the world stage, whilst the promise of a meeting with Australia is always a mouth-watering one, should it come to that later in the competition.

Undoubtedly a place in the World League Final will be firmly on Great Britain’s agenda, however the chance to secure a slot at the Rio Olympics is the real golden ticket on offer in Antwerp.

AJ7 Breaks forwards

The opponents.

Belgium. World Ranking: 4

Belgium have made incredible strides forward over the past few years coming from a being a team of also-rans to one of the best in the world. They missed out on the World Cup semi-finals thanks to a tense defeat to England in the final pool game and will surely be out to avenge that in the opening match in front of a partisan home crowd. They are undoubtedly a gifted group of players but it could be argued they have yet to reach their full potential. With ten players who have passed the 100 international appearances mark – John-John Dohmen, Jerome Truyens, Thomas Briels, Felix Denayer, Tom Boon, Simon Gougnard, Eliot van Strydonck, Vincent Vanasch, Florent van Aubel and Loick Luypaert they have plenty of experience and plenty of flair.

Malaysia. World Ranking: 12

Malaysia booked their place in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals with an 8-0 win over Poland in the final of the previous round. They scored a remarkable 42 goals in just six games in that competition and play a free-flowing style of hockey. In Azlan Misron, who is rapidly approaching 350 caps they have one of the most experienced players in the tournament. A 6th place finish at April’s Sultan Azlan Shah Cup on home soil was certainly not ideal preparation for this event, but the team are expected to be back to their very best in Antwerp. Malaysia are aiming to qualify for their first Summer Olympic Games since Sydney 2000, where they finished in 11th place.

Ireland. World Ranking: 14

The Green Machine could be the real dark horses of the competition. A side whose World ranking perhaps does them a disservice, they swept all before them in the last round of the World League in San Diego to qualify for the semi-finals. A squad with some real top class performers in the likes of David Harte, Ronan Gormley, Shane O’Donoghue, John Jackson and Chris Cargo it is a group with the potential to do very well. With the added spice of a “local derby” against Great Britain, Ireland will be raring to go in this tournament.

China. World Ranking: 31

At 31 in the FIH World Rankings, it comes as little surprise that China are massive outsiders for this event. However, those who saw them in action at the Greenfields Hockey World League Round 2 event in Cape Town will know that this is a team that is making huge strides forward. China performed way above all expectations at that event, claiming an astonishing 2nd place finish ahead of a trio of higher-ranked nations - hosts South Africa (WR: 13), Czech Republic (WR: 20) and Egypt (WR: 21). Their stunning 2-0 victory over South Africa in the tournament semi-final is arguably the biggest shock so far in the 2014-15 edition of the HWL, a feat they will be hoping to repeat in Belgium.

You can still get tickets to see Bobby Crutchley's side compete as England at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre this summer as the Unibet Eurohockey Championships 2015 come to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Just visit this link and make sure you secure your seat at the hottest ticket in town this summer!