Sun, sea and plenty of action… the dazzling, coastal city of Gold Coast is ready to roll out its hockey extravaganza at the Gold Coast Hockey Center in Australia today.
Olympic gold medalists England will look to steal Australia’s thunder in the 10-team women’s hockey competition, with the World no. 2 England having finished with a medal on all five occasions in the Commonwealth history (three silver, two bronze), and will look to savour the gold this time as they carry plenty of experience and confidence with them.
Our writer, Meghna Kapoor gives us glimpses of the games this year and some predictions of who could possibly be taking home the gold medal in this sport.
England: Top Contenders
Memories of the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medal triumph will still be fresh in their minds but they have also not forgotten that a gold has remained elusive in the Commonwealth Games. Cut to 2018, and England women want to be the party-crashers yet again and this time it is Australia who they have in sights as the latter are set to host the XXI Commonwealth Games.
With the very experienced Maddie Hinch in the goal and the skillful Kate Richardson-Walsh, England will be one of the top contenders for gold in the 11-day tournament.
Hockeyroos: Relying on history
Just like their men’s counterparts, Australia women have a sparkling record at the Commonwealth Games having picked up four of the five golds since hockey was introduced at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games. India are the only other team to have won a gold at the mega event in 2002 Manchester.
Form and home conditions once again point to the Hockeyroos but they know that the spotlight is clearly on England, who have had a brilliant run of results in the last two years.
Australia have slipped to fifth in the world rankings and are the third-ranked team in the competition behind world no. 2 England and the fourth-place New Zealand.
Emily Smith will lead the team in what will be Australia’s quest for a fourth straight gold. And while it will require them to summon all their resources to lay hands on the gold again, beating them in their home conditions wouldn’t be an easy task.
The England/Great Britain-Australia contests have been at the heart of international women’s hockey and the current situation has made it pretty dramatic. Both teams have a lot at stake. While Australia will look to make it special for the home fans and also defend their title, England are hungry for more success.
Their body language has changed after the Rio Olympics gold, and so has their belief and dreams. Alex Danson’s bunch believes they can “create magic”.
India : Dark horses
For those fond of numbers, it would be foolish to discard India on the basis of their last-place finish at the Rio Olympics.
Experience of playing at major tournaments, big match temperament, a fresh approach and the will to fight are some of the underline factors that have been part of the preparation in the last one year and they arrive at the Gold Coast as one of the favourites to finish on the podium.
Yes, it may sound unbelievable given their performances in the last decade but they are the clear dark horses here.
Led by Rani Rampal and coached by an exemplary man manager Harendra Singh, India are revelling in their new-found confidence and fitness. The Asia Cup win last year spoke highly of the change that these girls are looking to bring in and how they are shaping into a fighting-fit unit.
Rani, aged 23, played her first World Cup when she was just 15 and is nearing 200 international caps. She has 99 international goals and leads by example. Savita Punia in the goal is a tough customer while Sushila Chanu and Deepika Thakur lead the midfield and defence respectively, with great precision.
India will look to find inspiration from history — they won the gold at the 2002 Manchester Games — and if they can play with calm heads and execute the plans well, they can finish on the podium in 10 days time.
New Zealand: Rich in experience
New Zealand, with one silver and two bronze so far, are other strong contenders and have in their ranks the very talented Stacey Michelsen and Anita McLaren. The duo will be taking part in their third Commonwealth Games and the Mark Hager-guided side have a realistic chance of reaching the final. Hager has set the benchmark high and knows his girls can better the results at Delhi 2010 (silver) and Glasgow 2014 (bronze).
South Africa: High on hope
Nicolene Terblanche will spearhead the well-balanced South African side as they look to win their first medal at the Games. The recent good shows at the World Hockey League semi-final and the African Cup of nations means South Africa can spring a surprise or two and the team will be hoping for a consistent show.
Malaysia : Up for a Fight
Malaysia’s best finish in the competition has been sixth in 2006. The team from Asia is low on match experience, but can take a cue from their men’s team when it comes to putting up a fight.
Wales : Banking on Experience
Wales women qualified for Gold Coast after finishing in the top-10 in the latest Commonwealth rankings, and this is only the second time when both their men’s and women’s team have made the cut at the CWG. Their team consists a few members of the Great Britain gold-medal winning team in Rio and will be banking on their experience.
Scotland : Constantly Evolving
Scotland are a mix if youth and experience and the team has undergone a number of changes since they last turned out at the Glasgow Games. They face a challenging task in Pool B which pits them against Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Ghana. Sarah Robertson, with 100 caps, is the team’s most accomplished player and have for company the likes of Amy Costello and Nicola Cochrane.
Canada : Aiming to make a few upsets
The gritty Canadians will look to make the right noises at the Games as they arrive on the back of some good results. They beat world no 15 Chile and the seventh-ranked USA in recent matches and promise an aggressive mindset as they aim to make a few upsets.Captain Kate Wright believes her bunch is itching for a medal and that will fuel their bid for a successful campaign.
Ghana: Baby Steps
Ghana, ranked lowest at no. 30, are still finding their feet in international hockey. They qualified for the 2018 Games on a string of decent performances at the Africa Hockey Championship finishing behind South Africa. And even though a medal doesn’t seem a probability, they would be happy to lap up on the experience of facing quality opposition and going home with a few points.
England: world no. 2, New Zealand (no. 4), Australia (no. 5), India (no. 10), South Africa (no. 14), Scotland (no. 18), Canada (no. 21), Malaysia (no. 22), Wales (no. 26), Ghana (no. 30).
Pool A: England, India, South Africa, Malaysia and Wales
Pool B: New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, Canada, Ghana