Hager: Dutch not unbeatable

FIH Pro League opposition insight
With the FIH Pro League getting off to a flying start as the Netherlands’ women twice defeated China away from home in the opening weekend, the 2020 League is already off to an exhilarating start.

Great Britain’s men and women get their campaign underway on the weekend of 1 and 2 February away to Australia and, ahead of the trip, GB Women’s Head Coach Mark Hager analysed each of the sides competing in the league and what we can expect from them:

China:
“They’ve obviously got a bit of confidence having qualified for the Olympics, they’re a very fast team who like to counter-attack quickly. Their set plays will be very strong as they have some good quality corner specialists, so they’ll be tough and hard to beat. They’ve probably been in a bit of a lull over the past couple of years, but I think they’re growing and growing and getting more confidence, so they’ll be a difficult side to play against.

FIHPL China

Australia:
“When I was coaching New Zealand, we used to play Australia quite a bit and got to know them well. They’ve brought a couple of senior players back so they’re a bit of a new look side, everyone is looking towards the Olympics, so it’ll be interesting to see how everyone coaches through the FIH Pro League. Everybody likes to get momentum, but it’s also about giving players an opportunity over this next phase before making final decisions for the Olympics.

“Aussie, as we know, are physical, strong from corners, good defensively, have a good goalkeeper, are very fast, skilful and aggressive so they’ll be a tough team.”

FIHPL Australia

New Zealand:
“We know they’re a quick side, they’ve also got a couple of senior players who haven’t played for three or four years that have come back so it will be interesting to see how they fit into the group and where they fit within the programme in terms of what positions they play. 

“They’re a counter-attacking team, so if you give them an opportunity, they can hurt you with their speed. They’ve been growing over the last 12 months and getting better. I think that’s a good thing about the competition, if you’re a bit off your game then opposition teams will punish or beat you. We had one win against New Zealand and Australia beat us twice, so they are two teams that we need to start benchmarking and winning these games. 

“For us, the first tour across to Australia and New Zealand is about learning to win away from home and I think that’s something that we really have to work on to get that belief that we can win away from home as well.”

FIHPL New Zealand

Netherlands:
“They gave us as an England side a real touch up in the Europeans, that still hurts. We didn’t play well, and they were a masterclass that day. We allowed them too many penalty corner goals and probably tried to play too attacking against them which they punished us for on the counter-attack, they were very clinical that day. Like every team, everyone will be fitter coming into the Olympic Games so now it comes into the mind games, but if you look at the Dutch, they’ve got quality right across the park, so we’ll have to look at our own strengths and utilise them. 

“We had a really good game against them last year in the FIH Pro League at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre when we lost 1-0, but I felt it was in the balance for quite a lot of the game, so I think if we can get back to that standard again it’ll be a good contest.

“I think Alyson Annan, the Dutch coach, will rotate the team around again and then as it gets closer to the Olympics she’ll start to fine tune who she wants, but we’re probably all going to do that as coaches so that’ll be quite interesting. I think she’ll leave some of the senior players out to see how the team plays without them, but as we know they’ve got a lot of depth in that group. 

“They’re like any team, they’re not unbeatable, yes they are a very very good side which you’ve got to respect, but you’ve also got to be able to not fear them and play your game with trust and belief that you can do the job.”

FIHPL Netherlands

Germany:
“Again, they’ve got some experienced players who play a good expansive style which can be very attacking at times, they’re very good defensively with typical German style hockey which is very disciplined, physical and a hard team to play. We face them in the last game of the FIH Pro League and the first game of the Olympics, so it will be really interesting to see how both teams perform in the last FIH Pro League game. There’ll certainly be some bragging rights going into the Olympics.

“For us, we had a good game against them in the 2019 FIH Pro League but lost in the last 40 seconds of the match. They’re a team that we need to be able to beat and to do that we’ve got to be able to perform well on the day.”

FIHPL Germany

Belgium:
“They’ll be disappointed that they’re obviously not going to the Olympics, so you’d think that they’ll use the FIH Pro League for a bit of rebuilding. Whether they bring a lot of youngsters in to give them an opportunity remains to be seen. For them there’s ranking points from the FIH Pro League which are important, but they’ll also have an eye on the opportunity to blood players for two years ahead of the next World Cup and then the Paris Olympics in four years time. 

“They have improved over the last four or five years, but they’re obviously going to want to prove a point and play well so I guess in one way this is their Olympics so they’ll play with no fear in these matches and will have a plan to go all out knowing that they’re not preparing for Tokyo.”

FIHPL Belgium

Argentina:
“They’re a good side with lots of flair through the team. They’ve got a lot of ability to score goals in their forward line and some good senior players at the back with a lot of experience who are very smart hockey players. 

“They’re a team that if you let get on top of you, will punish you. It’s a lot of one on one type ability against the Argentinians, if you can win those battles then you’re going to be in the contest. With their ability they pattern the play and are smart hockey players who create a lot of havoc in the defence for you.”

FIHPL Argentina

USA:
“I think they’ll be quite similar to Belgium. They’ve got a new coach, they’ll obviously want to build for the next four years but we know that they’re hosting the Olympics in eight years time so I’m sure that they’ll have a small eye towards that, but also wanting to do well along the way as well. 

"They’ll be very much like Belgium by experimenting with some young players coming in. With the new coach it’ll also be interesting to see whether they change their style of play. They’re hard-nosed, very very fit and never give up so they’re a tough team to play.”

FIHPL USA

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