The Vitality Women’s Hockey World Cup is now just 50 days away and the excitement is ramping up in host city London and all around the world.
The 2018 edition is the 14th Hockey World Cup, with the first event taking place in 1974 in Mandelieu, France. On that occasion the champions were Netherlands and, indeed, it is the Netherlands who are the reigning champions after they put on an outstanding performance to beat Australia in front of a vociferous 15,000-strong home crowd in 2014 in The Hague.
Star of the Rabobank Hockey World Cup 2014 was the Dutch captain Maartje Paumen, scorer of seven goals – three penalty corners and four penalty strokes. “Paumen, she’s a killer, a lot of pressure but she does it always,” said team mate Kim Lammers in praise of her talismanic captain.
The gold medal proved to be Paumen’s last major gold. She missed the 2015 EuroHockey Championships where her team fell at the final hurdle to a resurgent England and she missed out on gold at the Rio 2016 Games – where the Netherlands took silver behind Great Britain.
Another player looking to light up the stage in the Hague for once last time as her career passed its zenith was Argentinian hero Luciana Aymar. The charismatic and elegant midfielder, who was FIH Player of the Year an unprecedented eight times, was hoping to end her career on a high. In the event, Aymar picked up a hamstring injury and Las Leonas left with a bronze medal after beating wild card USA into fourth place.
But even as the players who graced our hockey stage in 2014 have departed in the intervening years, there are new heroes seeking to take their place.
At just 18 years, Madison Doar has all the makings of a new Black Sticks superstar. It took just two games for the attacking midfielder to score her first senior international goal and she will be hoping to increase her current tally of five as her team launch a bid for a first World Cup gold medal.
Haruki Nagai of Japan has more than 125 caps to her name and yet she is only just entering her hockey prime. At 23-years-old, Nagai is an outstanding defender, whose stability at the heart of Japan’s defence will be a vital component of the Cherry Blossom’s performance in London.
Erin Matson is the new bright hope for USA. The teenager is hard-working, talented and prepared to take risks. She is also a born goalscorer and has already proven herself a match winner on the big stage with her performance at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg.
Germany’s defence is renown for its discipline and structure – qualities normally built around hardened veterans of a squad. With 72 caps to her name, Nike Lorenz is no stranger to international competition but at 21 years of age, she is a relative youngster for Die Danas. Calm under pressure and immaculate with her distribution, Lorenz is key to Germany’s defence.
Just when opposition thought they had seen the last of Dutch-woman Maartje Paumen dominating the field, along came Maartje Krekelaar. The attacking midfielder mesmerises opponents with her close stick skills and delivers the ball with fearsome accuracy. She may not yet have Maartje’s aura of invincibility but she is a star of the future.
The Hockey World Cup brings everything – drama, excitement, tension, heartbreak and joy. It is the parchment on which new hockey stories will be written.