Belarus men and France women have emerged victorious at the Hockey World League Round 1 event in Hradec Králové, Czech Republic.
Belarus were in sparkling form in the men’s competition, as the team ranked 37th in the world finished top of the pile ahead of the host nation and Ukraine, who are higher ranked at 20th and 24th respectively.
The Belarusians started the tournament with a comprehensive 5-2 thrashing of Slovakia on Tuesday (2nd September) before producing a remarkable performance to stun home favourites Czech Republic 3-2 on Thursday thanks in part to two open play strikes from Ivan Lutsevich.
A 5-0 win against Lithuania was followed by a shoot-out triumph over Ukraine (1-1 (3-1 SO)), guaranteeing their place in Round 2 of the Hockey World League and taking their first major step on the road to qualifying for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Czech Republic finished the tournament in second place, with Ukraine, Slovakia and Lithuania in third, fourth and fifth respectively. Ukrainian penalty corner expert Viacheslav Paziuk finished top scorer, finding the net on eight occasions including a four goal haul against Lithuania.
In the women’s competition, top seeds France opened their campaign by battling to a shoot-out victory over hosts Czech Republic (4-4 (1-2 SO) before recording solid wins against Austria (2-0) and Turkey (5-1) to ensure that their place in the second phase of the Hockey World League is assured.
France finished the tournament with seven points, one clear of second placed Austria and two ahead of Czech Republic. Turkey finished bottom of the table with zero points.
‘Les Bleues’ team captain Apolline Rogeau top scored for her team with three goals, all of which came from open play, netting one against the hosts before grabbing a double against Turkey. Rogeau finished the competition as joint top scorer, alongside Adela Bizova of Czech Republic.
The winning teams at all of the Hockey World League Round 1 events are guaranteed a place in Round 2 of the Hockey World League, where they will be joined by a number of the highest-placed finishers from the Round 1 tournaments. Round 2 will also see the introduction of the teams placed from 12 to 19 in the FIH World Rankings with the sides ranked 1 to 11 starting their journey in Round 3, where tickets for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games as well as qualification for the Finals tournament are up for grabs.
Photograph: FIH/ Frank Uijlenbroek