(Photo: FIH)

In less than 24 hours the inaugural Hockey World League will take its next big step when the first of the Semi-Final tournaments kicks off in Rotterdam, Netherlands. The joint men’s and women’s event will feature 16 teams, eight of each gender, fighting for a spot both in the final Hockey World League round and qualification for the 2014 Rabobank Hockey World Cup.

For half of the field in both the men’s and women’s tournaments, Rotterdam will be their first appearance at the Hockey World League and their first taste of international hockey’s newest and most innovative event. For the other eight teams, the road to Rotterdam has varied as much as the terrain on a mountain road. Let’s take a look at the field of eight teams in both tournaments and see how they arrived in Rotterdam, and what to expect once they are there.

Men’s Field:

The men’s tournament in Rotterdam is expected to be a battlefield among some of the very top teams in world hockey. Earning a bye to the Semi Final Round were #2 Australia, #3 Netherlands, #6 New Zealand and #7 Spain. This will be the first major international event for the Australians and Dutch after their gold medal hopes at the London 2012 Olympic Games were dashed by the Germans. It will also be a critical outing for the Aussies, who are naturally favourites to medal in the upcoming World Cup, but first they have to get there.

While the top-four ranked teams were automatically qualified for Rotterdam, the rest of the field is packed with talent sides that should not be taken lightly. Leading the pack is #9 Belgium, a team that has been on a massive upward progression over recent years and contains the prolific goal-scoring talents of Tom Boon. Not far behind Belgium is hockey powerhouse India (#11) who will look to continue their success after a strong showing at last December’s Champions Trophy in Melbourne.

The eight team line-up us completed by 15th-ranked Ireland and 17th-ranked France. For the Irish, the event is a key test as they have played bridesmaids in recent seasons, just missing the cut off to the Champions Trophy and Olympics. Meanwhile, France booked their ticket just over two weeks ago after they came out on top of a tight race to earn the last spot in the entire men’s field.

Women’s Field:

All eyes will be on the top-ranked women’s Dutch team in Rotterdam. Reigning Olympic champions and future host of the 2014 World Cup, this will be a big dress rehearsal for the team – even if they are missing top star Naomi van As due to injury. New Zealand, ranked third, #5 Germany and #8 Korea will provide the toughest test for the hungry Dutch. Just like the men, the top quartet are making their Hockey World League debut in Rotterdam and will face a bevy of competition from the teams that have worked the last eight months to make it to the Semi-Finals.

The four teams that went through the qualification process of Round 1 and Round 2 tournaments is a log jam in terms of talent and World Ranking. Japan, ranked #9 in the FIH World Ranking, just barely missed the automatic qualification process, but atoned for it in their strong Round 2 showing. Meanwhile, back-to-back teams in the World Ranking, #12 India and #13 Belgium could easily vie for a spot in a medal game in Rotterdam. India had home field advantage in its Round 2 tournament and passed the test with flying colours.

Meanwhile, Belgium is the only team in all of the Hockey World League Semi-Finals to play in both a Round 1 and Round 2 tournament. It’s a reminder of just how far the Belgium national team program has come when one thinks that not long before London, the women were playing at the Champions Challenge II level. Rounding out the field is Cinderella Chile, ranked #18.

FIH.CH will be providing full coverage of both the men’s and the women’s tournaments. To find out more, please click the links below.

Rabobank Hockey World League Semi Final – Men

Rabobank Hockey World League Semi Final - Women