Teams look to experiment in Champions Trophy
BHUBANESWAR, India (AP) — In the first major field hockey tournament since the World Cup in June, the eight Champions Trophy teams gathered in Bhubaneswar have one eye on the next global prize, the Olympics in 20 months.
The Trophy format now guarantees everyone makes the quarterfinals, so the teams are using the eight-day event to experiment new players, moves, and strategies.
Even top-ranked Australia, already an unprecedented winner of the last five Champions Trophies, has brought three new caps. After winning the World Cup, the Kookaburras dealt with a new coach and retirements, and still enter as the favorite on Saturday.
Germany, winner of the last two Olympics, felt it had no choice but to overhaul its team after poor results this year in the World League Final (seventh) and World Cup (sixth).
So it has given the captaincy to midfielders Moritz Furste and Tobias Hauke, the last two world players of the year, and the only players in the team with more than 200 caps. Germany has the lowest average of international caps at 63. Only three others have more than 100 games, and it also has three uncapped players.
“I feel players get tired by the time they have 200 caps, are not enthusiastic for the game,” Furste said on Friday. “The younger players like to do really well, and we are here to try out new systems as regards strategy and penalty-corner conversions.”
Germany is second only to Australia in Trophy titles with nine, but hasn’t won since 2007, and not medaled since 2009.
Furste, who missed the World Cup with a knee injury, says since the pool stage decides only who plays who in the quarterfinals, teams can go in with more confidence.
“We don’t have to worry much about the first three games. We can lose the first three round-robin matches and still win the tournament,” he said. “As for our team, we are capable of beating all teams, so we aim to win the quarterfinal, the semifinal and maybe the final.”
Germany was grouped with the Netherlands, which has brought five players who didn’t feature in the run to the World Cup final, Argentina, the World Cup bronze medallist, and India, the Asian Games champion coming off a series win in Australia. India has only one player over 26.
The other pool features Australia, England, a World Cup semifinalist, Pakistan, which has brought four teenagers, and Belgium, the dark horse.
Fourth-ranked Belgium made its Trophy debut in 2012 and beat Germany for fifth place. It has the most experienced side with an average of 105 caps, and is coached by Jeroen Delmee, who helped the Netherlands win six Champions Trophies.
“It’s a title that you want to win, but at the same time, it’s not a World Cup or the European Cup, so the load is a bit different,” Delmee said. “Therefore, it’s important that we prepare for the future. We want to perform but also try a few new things as regards to tactical aspects.”