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Road to Tokio 2020: The new Hockey Qualifiers and the Pro League.

This year the FIH decided to change the format of the tournaments to qualify to the World Championships and Olympic Games. In the Hockey world and its fans some support the new format and others think that the old one was much better, but the most don't actually understand the new system at all, so that is why we bring to you a small and easy explanation of it so then you can have your own opinion about it.

***In () Teams Qualified to the stage above.

The Olympic Games will include in the competition: Japan (the host), 5 continental champions and 7 teams that qualify through the FIH Olympic Qualifier, normally would be 6, but as Japan is continental Champion in men and women as well as host there is one extra place to be filled. This last instance to qualify is scheduled for October and November of this year.

How do teams get to qualify to the FIH Olympic Qualifier?

Is simple, 6 places are given by the FIH Series Finals standings plus 4 places from the Pro League standings and the remaining places are filled by the teams in highest position through the ranking 2018/2019. In this instance all the teams already qualified to the Olympic Games are excluded.

How does it work? 14 teams try to get in the 7 remaining spots for the Olympic Games. Back-to-back matches will be held in 7 different locations, between 2 different nation in each, where the best ranked team will be local. The team that gets the highest aggregate score will qualify and if there is a draw shoot outs will be taken. There is no clarity on who is going to play against who, FIH has only mentioned that is going to be based on the nations ranking.

The qualification to the FIH Olympic Qualifier starts through two different paths. First path was the FIH Open Series where any team affiliated to the FIH could be part of it, from this tournament teams qualified to one of the 6 FIH Series Finals ( 3 men and 3 women tournaments of 8 teams each), on this tournaments the best 2 will get to the FIH Olympic Qualifier. The second path was only for the best ranked nations of the world, the Pro League, where the best 9 nations play against each other during a period of 6 months, in their homelands and away (having two games against each nation), the final 4 from the Pro League will qualify then to the FIH Olympic Qualifier.

The FIH Pro League has been definetely a very interesting and exciting stage for the countries and the visibility of our sport, allowing more opportunities for all the Hockey fans to be part of this instances of International Hockey. It has also allowed to list 30 players rather than 16 or 18 that would be the usual for a tournament, from these 30 players the coaches can select and change the squad to play each of the games, and so, gives the chance to select the team thinking on what is better for each of their official competitions. This gave opportunities to the teams to bring back old players or chances for other new ones to gain experience, and that is how for example, Great Britain brought back their Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch that had decided to take a break from high performance last year.

It is two weeks until the end of the Pro League and the women teams to qualify are already known: Netherlands, Argentina, Australia and Germany, that just got their spot after defeating Belgium for 2-1 last week. On the standings another surprise is brought by Great Britain, that even though being second in the world ranking, they stand 8th at the Pro League, with a recently leadership and fundamental player loss in the team as Alex Danson had to take a break after hitting her head on holidays and still going through recovery after more than six months. Even though this events, Great Britain is the first on ranking to qualify to the FIH Olympic Qualifier, so they are still on the road to Tokio 2020.

On the mens side the perspective is completely different, the Pro League has been able to show how tight is the difference in the highest ranked nations, where between the first and sixth team there is only 6 points difference until now, whereas in the women teams there are already 13 points between the first 4 teams.

Germany vs Great Britain- FIH PRO League

Because of how tight is the difference, Argentina and Great Britain are still risking their qualification through the Pro League, where Argentina is one point above GB, but with less goal difference than them, which would mean in case of equal points, the British squad would qualify. Argentina still has two games to be played, but against the 1st and 3rd of the world, Belgium and Netherlands, but as it was already said, the skill and levels of the teams are so similar that is very difficult to estimate a result. On the other hand, Great Britain has one game left against New Zealand that has lost 9 and drawn 4 of their games. So, even though Argentina has still two games before the semi finals, they have a toughest panorama than the British squad. This games will be played between the 19th and 23rd of June, being the British team the last one to play the Pro League qualification matches.

As a curious fact we have to mention that this last game between GB and New Zealand will also be a historic one for Great Britain as it will be the first time ever that a Field Hockey game is played on a football stadium in the United Kingdom. Twickenham Stoop is being prepared and transformed for this instance that has only been done before by the Dutch, and has all the GB fans excited for such an amazing event, and willing to bring all their fans to support this last home match before the finals in the biggest Hockey stadium that British soil have had.

The Pro League Finals will be held between the 28th and 30th of June in the Netherlands, at almost the same timing. The Hockey Series Finals will be finished by the 27th of June.

Who do you think will be the qualified teams to Tokio 2020? What do you think about the new qualifying system?

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