Every four years, before the world’s best athletes meet at the Olympic Games to compete for their respective world titles, they converge worldwide at various Olympic qualifiers to earn their way to the big show.
For ten men’s national field hockey teams, including Canada, that first coming together has starts tomorrow.
Wednesday marks the beginning of the World League Semifinals in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Canada and nine other teams will battle for three 2016 Olympic spots.
For the Canadians, who are ranked fifteenth in the world, and will be going up against five of the world’s top ten teams, the task is a big one but the goal is clear: Olympic qualification.
“We’re very aware of how hard the competition is going to be and we’re exciting about playing in it,” says Men’s National Team head coach Anthony Farry. “We want to win the competition first off, but the main thing is qualification.”
In its round robin matches, Canada faces Spain (June 3rd, 6:00pm local), Austria (June 4th, 6:00pm local), Argentina (June 6th, 6:00pm local) and Germany (June 9th, 2:00pm local). Of their four preliminary round opponents, three are ranked higher than Canada and two sit in the top ten.
“Canada always relishes opportunities like this,” says Men’s National Team defender Gordon Johnston, who recently played in his sixtieth international match. “We play well against teams that are ranked higher than us and we like to play up to their level and standard.”
And Canada has recently proven it is up to the challenge.
At the 2014 Champions Challenge in Kuantan, Malaysia, Canada defeated the host Malaysians (currently ranked twelfth in the world) to earn a spot in the tournament final, and held the eighth ranked Korea to a 3-3 draw earlier in the tournament.
More recently, after a strong showing at World League Round 2 in San Diego, California in March, where Canada was forced to beat Russia in the playoff round – after the Russians had defeated the Canadian in the preliminary round – to qualify for the tournament in Argentina, the Canadians’ confidence level is high.
“For a long time now we’ve been thinking about the next stage and moving on to World League 3, and qualifying for Olympics,” Johnston adds.
“The tournament has been kind of hanging over us for a couple of years now. And now that we’ve qualified and showed that we do have what it takes, there’s a quiet confidence within the group.”
The top three finishers at the World League Semifinals in Argentina are guaranteed a spot at the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Canada will have a second shot to qualify for Rio later this summer at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, where the winner of the field hockey competition earns a spot at the Olympics.
Canada’s first match in Argentina is against Spain and begins Wednesday at 2:00pm PT/5:00pm ET. The match can be watched live at http://starsports.com.
Click here for Canada’s full World League Semifinals schedule and results.