The FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers 2024 are almost upon us. With action starting in Valencia and Ranchi on 13 January, followed by the start of qualifiers in Muscat on 15 January, find out how the first stage of the matches are shaping up in our pool preview below.
Please note that Netherlands (men & women), Australia (men & women), Argentina (men & women), South Africa (men & women), India (men) and China (women) have already qualified for the Olympic Games Paris 2024, by claiming gold at their respective continental qualifiers. They will be joined by the teams finishing in podium places at each of the three competition venues in Valencia (men & women), Ranchi (women) and Muscat (men).
Men’s Pool A: Belgium, Ireland, Japan, Ukraine
Pool A features Olympic Champions Belgium along with fellow European nations in Ireland and Ukraine, while Japan, hosts of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, will be the sole representative from Asia in the men’s Pool A in Valencia. While Belgium will be heavy favourites to top the group, there are no guarantees in international hockey. A top-2 spot in the pool is the only way to progress to the semi-final and keep the hopes of Olympic qualification alive, and each team will be aiming to give their best shot to make it out of the pool stage.
Men’s Pool B: Spain, Korea, Austria, Egypt
Spain and Korea are both ranked within the top-10 of the FIH Hockey World Rankings and will be the prohibitive favourites to advance to the knockout stages of the competition. But Egypt and Austria have both played excellent hockey on their way to qualifying for the FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers and both teams find themselves inside the top-20 in the world rankings, showing they are capable of posing a significant challenge to higher ranked Spain and Korea.
Women’s Pool A: Belgium, Korea, Ireland, Ukraine
Belgium are the highest ranked team in the pool, currently placed 4th in the world rankings. Their performances over the past year in the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup and the FIH Hockey Pro League have been outstanding, which makes them the favourites to progress out of the pool. Korea and Ireland are neck-and-neck in the world rankings in 12th and 13th positions respectively, and the head-to-head matchup between the two sides might end up being crucial in deciding who qualifies for the semi-finals. Ukraine’s star has been on the rise in international hockey over the past couple of years and it’ll come as no surprise to see them get the better of their higher ranked opponents and finish in the top-2 positions in Pool A.
Women’s Pool B: Great Britain, Spain, Canada, Malaysia
With teams from three different continents, pool B will bring a mixture of playing styles that is bound to create uncertainties and keep the crowd on its toes. Great Britain who won gold at the Olympic Games in 2016 and Spain, who have missed out on qualifying for just one edition of Olympics since 1992, will start as heavy favourites to qualify from the group. Canada and Malaysia will have to be at their very best to upset their higher ranked opponents and make it to the semi-finals of the event.
Women’s Pool A: Germany, Japan, Chile, Czech Republic
Germany, ranked 5th in the world, will be favourites to qualify from the group. They narrowly missed out on making it to the finals of the EuroHockey Championships and comfortably got the better of England to finish with the bronze medal. Japan, with their disciplined defence-first style are a threat against any opposition, while Chile have been going from strength to strength in international hockey over the past couple of years and a first-ever qualification to the Olympic Games would really cap off their brilliant recent run. Czech Republic have a tall task ahead of them, against three highly ranked opponents in their pool, but their performances at the EuroHockey Championships II, where they finished with the silver medals, are proof that they are ready to take a step up and challenge their higher ranked opponents.
Women’s Pool B: India, New Zealand, United States, Italy
As hosts, India will be hoping to give their passionate fans a lot to cheer for, by finishing inside the top-2 places in the pool and qualifying for the semi-finals. New Zealand and USA, both ranked inside the top-15 in the world, will also be expected to be in the mix for not just qualifying but also vying for the top spot in the group. Italy have produced some great results over the past year, but will have their task cut out against the three higher ranked opponents in the pool B. But with the likes of Lara Oviedo, Sara Puglisi and Federica Carta in the side, Italy can prove to be the dark horses that can cause multiple upsets in the group.
Men’s Pool A: Great Britain, Malaysia, Pakistan, China
Pool A promises to provide plenty of thrills with four teams known for their exciting style of hockey going head-to-head across 6 pool stage matches. Great Britain are the prohibitive favourites and have been flying in recent times, with a silver medal at the EuroHockey Championships and the 2022-23 season of FIH Hockey Pro League. They will be joined by traditional Asian powerhouses Malaysia and Pakistan, two teams that look to have moved beyond their rebuild phases, and will be looking to make their returns to the Olympic Games, having missed out on the previous edition. China have made just one appearance in men’s hockey at the Olympic Games, in 2008 as the hosts. They will be hoping to secure a top-3 spot at the qualifiers to join their women’s side, who have already qualified for the Olympic Games as the gold medalists of the Asian Games 2023.
Men’s Pool B: Germany, New Zealand, Canada, Chile
Germany, ranked 5th in the world, will be de-facto favourites to top the pool, but New Zealand, despite their recent dip in form, remain one of hockey’s biggest powerhouses, and came close to qualifying for the Olympic Games at the expense of Australia at the 2023 Oceania Cup, falling short at the very end. Canada and Chile will both come in as underdogs in Pool B, but as evidenced by their performances at the FIH Hockey Men’s World Cup 2023, they have a lot to offer, with their fast-paced playing styles, providing an ideal foil against their higher ranked opponents in the pool.
The FIH Hockey Olympic Qualifiers will take place in Valencia (13-21 January), Ranchi (13-19 January) and Muscat (15-21 January). For more information about the qualifiers and the upcoming Olympic Games Paris 2024, visit Olympics.Hockey.