(Photo: © FIH / Wolfgang Sternberger)

This weekend sees the start of the women’s WorldHockey Olympic qualifier, where the national teams from Belgium, France, India, Netherlands Antilles, Russia and USA will battle it out for a place at the Beijing Olympics. The tournament takes place at Kazan, Russia, and looks set to be a thrilling spectacle.

The opening matches of the tournament see USA take on Belgium, with France playing Netherlands Antilles and India facing host nation Russia in front of a home crowd. All of the teams will play each other in the round-robin phase of the event before the tournament classification matches take place on Sunday 27th April.

The winner of the tournament will join China (hosts), Japan, South Africa, Argentina, Germany, Netherlands, Great Britain, New Zealand and Australia at the Olympic hockey tournament, along with the winner of the Olympic Qualifier currently taking place in Baku. The last remaining spot at the Beijing Games will be decided at the final Olympic Qualifying Tournament, which takes place in Victoria later this month. 

The following teams will fight for a place at the Beijing Olympics:

Belgium: Belgium are ranked 24th in the world currently, but are more than capable of causing a few upsets at this tournament. With 70 caps to her name, Sophie GIERTS is the most experienced member of a team that are looking to emulate the Olympic qualification success achieved by the Belgium men at the Euro Nations tournament in Manchester last year.

France: It is a young squad that France bring with them to this tournament, with no fewer than ten players under the age of 21, including two 16 year olds – Margaux DE GALZAIN and Justine DUBY. The side are ranked 18 in the world, and have prepared well in their bid to achieve Olympic qualification.

India: The thirteenth best team in the world and Commonwealth Games champions of 2002 are an exciting team to watch. The side are intent on playing attacking hockey and have some very skilful players in their team, none more so that their captain Mamta KHARB. Another player to watch is Pritam SIWACH, who has a habit of producing excellent performances just when her team need her most.

Netherlands Antilles: Despite limited international experience – their highest capped player, Ernestina SCHREUDER has 39 caps – much is expected from the Netherlands Antilles. The side are ranked 20th in the world, and have many players involved in the Dutch National League, arguably the best domestic league in the world. 

Russia: The host nation are the second lowest ranked team in the competition (21), but have some experienced international players amongst their ranks, such as their 33 year old captain Elana SVIRSKAYA. The team will be hoping for great support from the home crowd in their beautiful, newly built stadium.

USA: The tournament favourites have a world ranking of 11, which makes them the highest ranked team at the event. This side are incredibly strong and athletic, and in Amy TRAN they have a truly world class goalkeeper. However, as there is only 13 ranking places separating all of these teams, they are not expected to have it all their own way during this tournament.

You can find out more information by browsing this FIH tournament microsite.  The microsite aims to provide up to the minute information, with results, scorers, action photos and full tables available for viewing. The site also plans to use the popular 'Live Commentary' feature, giving you the chance to view written reports from your computer as the action takes place.