With just over four months to go until the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, taking place between 5-14 April, the Pools and match schedule have been released, and there are some intriguing match-ups in store for the teams and fans.
In the women’s competition, there are a number of teams who will be relishing the chance to go for gold in what will be the last major international event before the Vitality Hockey Women’s World Cup London 2018 that takes place between 21 July and 5 August.
Current champions Australia will want to impress in front of a home crowd, while England and New Zealand will both want to get their names on the trophy for the first time.
Australia men reign supreme when it comes to the Commonwealth Games – five editions, five victories – so there will be a queue of nations lining up for a crack at the title, not least recently crowned Asian champions India, who have been runners-up in the past two editions.
So to the pools and schedules and a look at some of the key clashes that await us.
In the women’s event, Pool A comprises the world number two ranked team England; India (FIH Hero World Ranking:10) who, like their men, were recently crowned Asian champions; African champions South Africa (WR:14); Malaysia (WR:22), who gained so much experience from the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels; and Wales (WR:26), who will bring the passion and fire they showed to finish fourth at EuroHockey Champions Challenge II.
Equally compelling are some of the teams who will meet in Pool B.
Top of the tree are current title holders Australia – currently ranked fourth in the world and winners of the 2017 Oceania Cup. They are joined by rivals New Zealand (WR: 5) who will arrive in the Gold Coast exuberant from a performance at the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final that saw them knock out Argentina and take the silver medals; Scotland (WR: 18) who are an improving nation who, like Malaysia gained valuable experience in the World League in Brussels earlier this year; Canada (WR:21) who fell short by their standards at the Pan American Cup and will have a point to prove, and Ghana (WR:30) who have grown in experience and knowledge over the past four years, particularly through their partnership with the International Hockey Federation’s (FIH) West Africa Targetted Assistance Programme.
The Pool schedule paves the way for some key clashes before the event even reaches the knockout stages.
The opening day sees England take on South Africa in Pool A. The last time these two teams met in a major competition was the Hockey World Cup in 2014, an encounter that saw England defeated 4-1 by an energetic South Africa side.
Since then, England have rebuilt. Whilst many of the Rio 2016 gold medal winning Great Britain athletes are expected to be included in the squad, as England they took silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and bronze at the 2017 Rabobank EuroHockey Championships.
South Africa showed at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg that they are also a side that has been undergoing a successful rebuilding process after they were omitted from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The second day of competition sees an all-Asia contest as Malaysia take on India. At the Asia Cup, India beat Malaysia 2-0 but the lower-ranked team has been gaining a lot of international experience in the past two years and will be using all that knowledge to full effect at these Games.
The Malaysian’s narrow defeat [5-4] at the hands of China in the Asia Cup demonstrated that they are not too far off the pace of the top-ranked teams.
Monday 9 April will be the day the whole of Oceania tunes in as Australia take on New Zealand. While the Hockeyroos took the honours at the recent Oceania Cup, New Zealand has had a great 2017, qualifying for the World Cup via the Hockey World League Semi-Finals and finishing second in the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final in Auckland. Expect fireworks on the Gold Coast as world ranked four versus five gets underway.
In the men’s event, the Pools promise some highly competitive action.
Pool A has current holders and world number two side, Australia, up against New Zealand (WR:8), Canada (WR:11), African champions South Africa (WR:15) and Scotland (WR:23).
Pool B will pitch Asian champions India (WR:6), England (WR:7), Malaysia (WR:12), Pakistan (WR:13) and Wales (WR:24) together.
While Australia has won every edition of the Commonwealth Games to date, there are teams who are more than capable of taking that crown.
New Zealand will be looking to up their performance after they qualified for the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, Bhubaneswar 2018 by the slimmest of margins by finishing sixth in the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg.
Canada should never be under-estimated as they proved when they finished fifth at the Hero Men’s Hockey World League Semi-Final in London, beating India in the process.
South Africa won the continental championships to qualify for the World Cup and re-establish themselves on the international scene and Scotland is a team that has real bite to its attack as it showed when it won the EuroHockey Championship II, beating Wales in the final.
In Pool B, there are some real high quality teams. India and England sit at six and seven in the world rankings respectively and have both enjoyed a good spell of success recently. India won the Hero Asia Cup in Bangladesh, while England won bronze in the Rabobank EuroHockey Championships.
Two Asian teams, Malaysia and Pakistan took second and third respectively in the 2017 Hero Asia Cup and both teams will be looking for a good showing on the Gold Coast before they start their World Cup campaigns later in the year.
Wales, who come into the tournament as the lowest ranked men’s side will be looking to build on their recent rise up the FIH Hero World Rankings. An eight-place jump was the biggest move up the rankings of any team.
A quick look at the schedule and some exciting matches immediately catch the eye.
It is a given that the meeting between Pool B rivals India and Pakistan will be a highly-charged affair, with both teams playing for continental bragging rights.
However, no less intense will be the repeat of the 10-goal pool match between Malaysia and England at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final in London, where England ran out 7-3 winners.
The final day of Pool action on Wednesday 11 April is sure to be an action-packed day. Malaysia face Asian rivals Pakistan, then the Oceania giants Australia and New Zealand clash. This is followed by India against England, where two well-matched teams go into the fray and finally, Canada will fancy their chances against the African champions, South Africa.
To follow all the latest news from the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, visit their official website.