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Olympic Qualifier Preview: Canadian women ready to take on opponents
The Olympic Qualification Tournament is rightfully expected to deliver a very high level of competition, with all teams looking to field their best performances. In world-ranking order, Team Canada was drawn into group B, along with the United States, Spain, Greece, Japan and South Africa.
The Americans are strong favorites in the group and in the tournament. Despite a few loses in the past years; they have won every tournament they have competed in for the past 2 years, apart from the Rio invitation tournament in November. The US team is very complete, showcasing dominant center forwards, physically imposing hole-checks and a strong goalie. The high speed of their execution on offense, along with their very heavy and tight defense will prove to be a challenge for any other team.
Spain stands out with a very dynamic game based on their organized attack and blazing speed. Being a very small but explosive team, the Spaniards base their game around their center forward, finding ways to give her the ball or taking quick shots on the perimeter. Their defensive game is based on a dynamic 1-2 area, allowing them to block a lot of shots to make it easier on their goalie while simultaneously allowing them to have a strong counter-attack.
Greece is a team that plays very tight defensively, slowing the pace of play as much as possible. They create a box that leaves the opposing center with little movement before putting pressure on perimeter shots. Having a very static game, their strength relies on the quality of their outside shots to beat blockers and goaltenders, in order to support the small but explosive center forwards.
Japan, who was in Montreal in February to face Team Canada, is expected to display a completely different game system from the normal standards. Being very small and using a higher line of passing, they force their opponents to make many offensive mistakes in order to take advantage of their explosive counter-attack. At 6 on 6, the Japanese team is very dynamic and is constantly in motion to create confusion and draw exclusions. Very aggressive play will be expected from their games.
South Africa will also be in Canada’s group. Being a developing program, there is little information on their team which should regardless not pose a major threat when battling for the Olympic qualification.
However, as many are already aware, the most crucial games are not those happening within group B. Team Canada’s Olympic fate will be decided by the team they will face initially in group A. 4 teams within this group are expected to distinguish themselves among those who will fight for a spot at the Olympics this summer.
The favorite in group A is Team Netherlands. They finished second at the World Championships in August and at the European Championships last January, narrowly missing their direct Olympic Qualifier against Hungary. They are now at home in Gouda and will have the crowd and their fans behind them in support to face any team. The strength of their team is the quality of their shots and the fluidity of their passes. They have a strong left-handed center forward, and very imposing players in the defensive center position. Their young goalkeeper is on the rise and has made great progress and achievements in the last championships.
Next comes Italy, who finished third in the World and European ranking. Di Mario, at the age of 35, is the most experienced player of all the teams. Italy’s game plan is directed through her; she has an excellent understanding of the game and constantly leads and directs her teammates who have very precise passes. In addition, Italy can count on a goalie who stands very well with her long reach and massive wingspan. Their zone defense puts a lot of pressure on the perimeter attack for most teams, forcing them to shoot under pressure and force the counter-attack.
Russia finished 6th in the European ranking. Their team is very aggressive on defense, pressuring carriers in attempts to steal the ball. They are also very fast which provides many fast-break opportunities. They have confidence in their center forward, but also on their offensive drives. Being a well-rounded team with very good technical qualities, the Russian team does not always rely on strength, but more so on the quality of their execution to win their games.
France has an often surprising game, registering close scores against all the teams mentioned above. As such, they are a team to watch. Having a coach who originally hails from Greece, they have a playing style very similar game to that of the Greek team. The French women focus upon a very tight defensive zone and base their attacking game on their center forward and outside shots.
New Zealand and Cuba might be able to surprise France for the 4th rank in Group A, but it is quite an unlikely possibility considering that, like South Africa, they are a developing program.
After many months of preparation, Team Canada is ready to fight first for the best result in the top four of group B. Following this, they are already looking forward to knowing, on March 25, the provenance of the team they must beat on March 26 on the road to Rio.


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