Germany men and women were the last team’s to start their FIH Pro league campaign, watching from the sidelines as their rivals tore into each other in the opening matches. Then followed a baptism of fire as they undertook the long journey to the other side of the world to face Australia and New Zealand.
First both teams faced Australia, in their own backyard in Hobart, Tasmania, where the men’s team lost 4-2 in a closely contested game.
Despite the loss, Germany (FIH World ranking: 6) were far from outplayed, matching the higher ranked team all over the field – just failing to convert their chances.
For the women’s team (WR:5) an in-form Australia (WR:3) faced them. The Hockeyroos had won two of their three FIH Pro League matches, including a notable win over the world number one side, The Netherlands. It was a tough ask but Germany rose to the challenge and the match finished 2-2, although Australia went on to win the subsequent shoot-out.
Speaking about the match, women’s captain, Janne Müller-Wieland said: “Our game against Australia was our first FIH Pro League game after a long winter, where the emphasis was on indoor hockey. We couldn’t train outside due to ice and snow so we only had a couple of days in Australia to prepare for our first game. It was a really good game and in the end we could’ve even walked away with more than one point. We learned a lot from that game though and used the time together until the New Zealand game to work on a couple of things.
The hop across the Tasman Sea proved fruitful for both German teams. The men won 3-1 and the women won by the same margin.
Germany’s prolific striker, Christopher Rühr explained that match fitness was behind the team’s return to winning ways.
“When we played against Australia it was obvious that it was our first game of 2019. We lacked fitness in the second half of the game, after enjoying a good first half. This aspect of the game was better in our New Zealand game and we could keep the pace up until the end of the match. We definitely deserved the win. In general, we’re happy with our three points and confident for the match against Argentina.”
Players and coaches are adapting to a new way of preparing for international encounters. Where most events are played over an intense 10 day period, these are one-off games with recovery time.
As Rühr explains however, that will not always be the case. “For our first three matches, it’s all focused on one game. There is a good break between games which you don’t get in a tournament. This makes preparation a bit easier. This will be different when we play FIH Pro League games in the middle of our German Bundesliga season. We’ll see how this goes in March and April.”
For Müller-Wieland there are definite benefits to the new format: “It’s very different to prepare for one highlight event rather than for games every couple of weeks, all of which count. Over the course of the whole Pro League we have the chance to develop under competitive conditions, regularly playing the best teams in the world which is great.”
Prior to the start of the FIH Pro League, there were concerns among the teams about how the players would cope with the impact upon their bodies of long distance travel.
As Rühr explains, it is something that the medical staff have been working hard to combat: “Our medical staff worked out a plan to fight jet lag. This means controlling our sleeping hours, working out the best timing for meals etc. This has worked very well and jet lag hasn’t been a big problem. We have had enough time to acclimatise.”
So next stop for Germany in their FIH Pro League journey is Argentina. It is a challenge that Rühr and Müller-Wieland are relishing.
“We’re expecting a close game in front of a huge crowd,” says Rühr. “It’s awesome to play in Argentina, because the people are very patriotic and real fans of their teams. There will be a great atmosphere for sure. Our goal is to win and go back home with two wins from three matches.”
“Argentina is a very different opponent to Australia and New Zealand so it will be interesting to see how we perform against them,” adds Müller-Wieland. “We’ve had some great games against them in the past and both teams have changed a lot since we played each other at the World Cup. The atmosphere will be incredible – as always in Argentina – and we are looking forward to a great game.”