It’s showtime! Make sure you don’t miss a minute of the action as the Olympic hockey program begins……GET EXCITED!
Australia v Blacksticks
Game Time: LIVE Foxtel July 29, 8:30AM (BST) 5:20pm (AEST)
Pool B: Australia, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, USA, Argentina
Players to watch:
Australia: Madonna Blyth, Casey Eastham, Georgia Nanscawen
New Zealand: Kayla Sharland, Stacey Michelsen, Anita Punt
If the Australian women’s hockey team are to medal in London, their first game against New Zealand is a must win and it is by no means a ‘give me’, especially with former Australian hockey champion Mark Hager at the Blacksticks helm.
Hager is a two-time Olympian who captained Australia to bronze at the 1996 Games in Atlanta and used to be an assistant coach in the Australian hockey program.
The 48 year old was inducted into Hockey Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2008 and took over the New Zealand women’s high performance program in 2009.
Under Hager the Blacksticks defeated Australia in a three test series, for the first time in history, to win the Oceania Cup last year and have arrived at the Games in top form after winning the bronze medal at the 2011 Champions Trophy.
So Australia’s head coach Adam Commens, who is also a former Olympian, winning a bronze medal at the Sydney 2000 Games, has his work cut out from the sidelines.
The once dynamic midfielder won’t be intimidated however, with a decorated playing and coaching career of his own.
From 2007-2010 Commens played an instrumental role at the helm of the Belgium men’s program leading the team to their first Olympic preparation in 32 years.
After that success he returned home to re-build an inexperienced Australian women’s team that dreams of returning to their former glory, when coached by Ric Charlesworth.
This team still remains the most successful women’s hockey outfit in the world with three gold medals and the only group that can boast back to back wins at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics.
Since that time however, when Australian greats like Alyson Annan, Rechelle Hawkes and host of other champions retired, a new breed of athletes was born.
In London they will be the youngest team competing but only time will tell whether youth will play a factor in their performance.
Experts say Australia are inexperienced and London is a stepping stone to the Rio games in 2016, where they are tipped to once again dominant the women’s game but the players disagree.
Australia’s most recognisable player, midfielder Casey Eastham this week said London was their time to shine.
It won’t be easy though with their side of the draw tagged the ‘pool of death,’ with Germany and Argentina giant walls they will need to tumble.
The Blacksticks and Hockeyroos are evenly matched all over the park. Both are versatile, quick and have a high work rate with fitness a key strength and both have weapons on penalty corners.
For Australia it’s drag flicker Jodie Schulz and for the opposition it’s their captain and short corner striker Kayla Sharland.
Despite being a young side, Australia actually has more Olympic experience in their ranks with goal keeper Toni Cronk at her third Games and at their second; captain Madonna Blyth, Hope Munro, Megan Rivers, Casey Eastham, Kobie McGurk and Teneal Attard.
Blackstick’s Sharland and Emily Nayler are at their third Olympics, while Krystal Forgesson and Gemma Flynn are at their second.
For Australia players to watch include Blyth, Eastham and McGurk, while youngsters Georgia Nanscawen and Emily Smith are tipped to make an impact in the attacking circle.
For the Kiwis, keep your eye on 2011 World Young Player of the year Stacey Michelsen and lightening quick forward Anita Punt, who rates in the top eight of the men’s New Zealand Hockey Program for pace over 10 metres! Now that’s quick and the likes of McGurk, Attard, Anna Flanagan, Kate Jenner and Jayde Taylor will need to hold strong on the back-line and deny Punt the ball.
Overall if the Australians, who have had their fair share of injury woes heading into the Games, are fit, they should battle across the line to win in a very tight tussle.
Hockey Australia Press Release