What can be said about Spain? They’ve been all over the spectrum.
A regretful 13th place finish at the 2018 Hockey World Cup…..A disappointing 7th place finish in the 2019 FIH Pro League…to a 2nd place finish at the EuroHockey Championships?
Spain have been hit or miss over the last few years. Before the Euros, I probably would have put my money on the rising French and moved on. But the Spanish are professional, experienced, and I believe they have a chip on their shoulder.
Right now, I don’t think Spain are considered one of Hockey’s Elite. They are outside of the group that constantly competes for a Gold at the major events (Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Argentina – the top tier).
Second tier maybe? Germany, India, England. Is that where Spain fits in? Or are they in the group with New Zealand, Ireland, Malaysia and Canada?
It’s up for grabs at this point, but the one thing we can be sure of is, if Spain walk into this series in Valencia with even the slightest notion at looking past the French……The Spanish could find themselves viewing the Tokyo games from a terrace in Malaga.
Many countries talk about their, “Golden generation.” Usually referenced around the under-14 or under-16 age groups.
Coaches at clubs, or even national teams, always admire a generation of athletes that have the potential to be really successful. These age groups are incredibly unpredictable.
Some kids in that “golden generation,” choose academics over sport, lose interest, can’t compete physically, or just stop playing hockey all together.
2013 Hockey saw a true Golden Generation emerge at the Hero Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup in New Delhi. France achieved the unimaginable, claiming a silver medal at the Junior World Cup. The countries highest finish, ever.
The two questions for the French would be, could they sustain that success at the next level? Or would it end in New Delhi?
Flash forward 5 years to the 2018 Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup. World No. 18 France, who qualified for the 16 nation Hockey World Cup, defeated China in the cross-overs to make it to the Quarter-Finals, ensuring a top 8 Finish.
9 players from the 2013 Junior World Cup made up the 2018 Senior World Cup roster, cementing this French group as a true Golden Generation in hockey.
Now with an average age of 26, the Golden Generation will again try to continue their success by facing a strong Spanish side in a 2 game series for place in the Olympic Games.
Added bonus for this series? The Head Coach of Spain is French Legend, Frederic Soyez.
COMPARATIVE STATS | LAST 15 GAMES
Common Opponents: World No. 2 Belgium & World No. 11 Ireland
Spain with a 1-2-1 record
France with a 1-4-1 record
ROAD TO QUALIFICATION
Spain received their ticket to the FIH Olympic Qualifiers based off of their World Ranking 8, finishing 7th in the Pro League.
France reached the FIH Olympic Qualifiers after winning the FIH Series Finals they hosted, defeating Scotland (3-0) in the semifinals, and later taking down long time rival Ireland (3-1) in the final.
2016 OLYMPIC QUALIFIERS
Spain’s last appearance at the Olympics was 2016 in Rio, reaching the Quarter-finals before losing.
The Spanish haven’t missed an Olympic Games since 1956 and have never finished below the 9th place. They have claimed a total of 4 medals (3 silver, and 1 bronze), with their most recent medal, a silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The French, on the other side did not compete at the Rio Olympics 2016, and have not been to an Olympic Game since their 12th place finish in 1972.
Though they are scheduled to host the Games in 2024, this golden generation will be looking to book their ticket to Tokyo.
2018 – 2019 CONTINENTAL QUALIFIERS
Spain played in the top division of the 2019 Euro Hockey Championships, in Antwerp Belgium this summer, defeating world no. 13 The Netherlands (4-3) in the Semi-Finals before losing to Belgium (0-5) in the finals.
France played in the second division of the EuroHockey Championships, defeating Austria in the Semi-Finals through a shootout, and Russia (4-0) in the finals to reclaim a spot in the Top Division of the Euro’s next time around.
COMPARATIVE STATS | HEAD-TO-HEAD
Wins | Spain 6 – France 2
Losses | Spain 2 – France 6
Draws | Spain 3 – France 3
Goals for | Spain 33 – France 23
Goals Against | Spain 23 – France 33
COMPARATIVE STATS – WORLD RANKING GRAPH
Couple of facts before we get into this.
Through both team’s last 15 games:
Spain have played only four games against teams outside of the top seven… twice against world ranked 13th Ireland, once against world ranked 11th Malaysia and once against world ranked 18th Wales.
France, on the other side have played against only one top 10th ranked team.
The last time that France defeated Spain? Well, you’d have to go back to the 1990 World Cup. 29 years ago!
Spain are by far the most experienced team when it comes to consistently playing against the best in the world.
They have competed with and defeated the best teams in the world. Look at the Pro League, 7 wins against the top 8 teams in the world (5 from shootouts).
What seems to be the common trend with these Qualifiers? A home-field advantage. This series is going to be played in Valencia, and it will be sold out.
If this goes to shootouts, Spain go to Tokyo. Remember earlier? Seven wins in the Pro League, with five coming from shootouts and zero shootout losses.
That being said, I think both sides will play to a draw in the first match, and France are likely to stun the Spanish side and book their ticket to Tokyo.
For these Olympic Qualifiers to be successful, you have to see an underdog go through. France has the ability to be one of those teams.