17th August 2017: Tomorrow the Rabo EuroHockey Championships will begin in the revamped famous Wagener Stadium.
16 national teams, eight per gender, representing 10 nations will be competing in the Dutch capital between 18 and 27 August.
The iconic venue hosting this year’s Championships, which was built in 1938 and is named after former Hockey Club Amsterdam Chairman Joop Wagener, has so often been the stage for some of the world’s greatest hockey events, having twice previously hosted the European championships as well as seven Hockey Champions Trophy competitions and the men’s Hockey World Cup in 1973. Although the pitch has been resurfaced on numerous occasions, the famous wooden grandstand changed little since its construction in 1939.
That will all change this weekend when the cream of European hockey compete in a stadium that has undergone a major facelift featuring a brand new, state-of-the-art grandstand, something which will be enjoyed by the thousands of spectators who will flood to Amstelveen district over the coming ten days, but without doubt the stadium still has kept it’s famous wooden exterior.
Although the stadium may have changed in appearance, the men’s and women’s teams of the Netherlands will be keen to provide a reminder that it is still the same place where they have enjoyed phenomenal success down the years.
The Dutch men enter the competition as the reigning champions following their sensational 6-1 triumph over Germany in the final of the 2015 edition in London. Their recent form at the Hero Hockey World League Semi-Final, also played in London, where they destroyed Olympic champions Argentina 6-1 in the event final, suggests that they are very much the team to beat.
“The DNA of Dutch players is to be creative and to play attacking hockey” said Dutch attacking star Billy Bakker in a recent interview ahead of the competition. “With the current combination and the creative faculty, we should be really nice to watch. Our team is always developing and we have a new, young generation coming up. We need to make sure they feel very comfortable because we really need them.”
The Dutch men play in Pool A, where they will certainly not have an easy time of it against the likes of Belgium, Spain and Austria in the race for a top two finish and the semi-final berth that comes with it. Belgium’s Red Lions were in sensational form at the Hockey World League Semi-Final in Johannesburg, winning the event final by thrashing Germany 6-1.
In men’s Pool B, England, Germany, Ireland and Poland will be fighting it out for those semi-final places. England have fond memories of the Wagener Stadium, having been crowned European champions in the venue at the 2009 edition. England’s captain at the time was Barry Middleton, who at the age of 33 remains a hugely influential figure in both midfield and attack for his country, with a phenomenal 247 caps to his name!
Germany’s chances of European glory have been boosted by the return of two key players to the fold, with defender Martin Häner and legendary midfielder Tobias Hauke both being selected by Head Coach Stefan Kermas. With 13 medals from 15 European championships, Die Honamas will be looking to extend their impressive record in Amstelveen.
Along with England and Germany, Ireland’s Green Machine have already assured themselves of a safe passage through to next year’s World Cup thanks to strong performances in the Hockey World League Semi-Final, and following their bronze medal at the 2015 edition, the team so often inspired by the brilliance of goalkeeper David Harte will fancy their chances of getting on the podium once again.
In the women’s competition, the Netherlands are the team to beat in Pool A, which also features Spain, Belgium and Czech Republic. Like their male counterparts, the team coached by Alyson Annan have been in imperious form this summer, storming to victory at the FINTRO Hockey World League Semi-Final in Brussels, winning all seven of their matches. The team has numerous star players, although Kelly Jonker, and Lidewij Welten – the 2015 Hockey Stars Women’s Player of the Year, are certainly stand-out attacking talents and return to action after spells on the sidelines.
“Lidewij is one of the best in the world”, said Netherlands star Carlien Dirkse van den Heuvel. “She brings a lot of power into our attacking game. Kelly is one of a kind. Her skills in the D are exceptional, she can pop up just in the right spot and score a goal. So having these two players back is great and I can’t wait to play with them in a full packed orange stadium at the Euros.”
The reigning European champions, England, will be seen by many as the favourites to finish top of women’s Pool B, although they can expect stern challenges from Germany, Ireland and Scotland. The England squad contains numerous players who were part of Great Britain’s sensational Olympic gold medal success at Rio 2016, including ace goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, key defender Hollie Webb and star striker Alex Danson, who captains the side.
England finished third at the recent Hockey World League Semi-Final event in Johannesburg, one place behind Germany who impressed greatly at that event. Germany, coached by Jami Mülders and captained by Janne Müller-Wieland will be serious contenders in Amsterdam, where 22-year-old Charlotte Stapenhorst will look to enhance her reputation as one of the most exciting young talents in the game.
To find out more about the competition, please visit the official event website by clicking here.
The European Hockey Federation recently announced that all matches from the Rabo EuroHockey Championships 2017 will be live streamed on eurohockeytv.org/ (EHTV), an exciting new streaming platform created in partnership with Sportradar. Some games at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships will be GEO blocked due to broadcast arrangements in those territories. For full details regarding the broadcast of the event, click here.
Pictured: The Men’s and Women’s captains of Austria, Scotland, Spain, Czech Republic, Poland, England, Germany, Ireland, Belgium and The Netherlands (EHF/Frank Uijlenbroek (c))