They are certainly not as feted as the ‘Les Bleus’ but the French hockey team is expecting that a quarter-final berth will usher a new era going into the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The 5-3 upset win over Olympic champions Argentina in the ongoing men’s World Cup has been the catalyst for a ‘French Revolution’ in an unchartered territory.
Returning to the FIH World Cup after a hiatus of 28 years, France, the lowest ranked side in the competition at 20, has already raised expectations back home and will like to carry the momentum during the last eight phase. France will next play world no. 17 China in the cross-overs on Monday and going by their form, they are expected to reach the quarterfinals, where a stern test awaits them in the form of two-time defending champions and world no.1 Australia.
But ask the France team management, they will happily admit that they have already surpassed expectations here and the team is on the right track towards its “Ambition Hockey 2024” project. “We have showed that with our work that even if you don’t have 100,000 hockey players, you can still achieve a dream — to reach the next round after beating Olympic champions (Argentina) at a World Cup,” France’s coach Jeroen Delmee, a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the Netherlands, said.
“It is a dream come true moment for everyone. This is a confidence booster which French hockey needed. It is a historic result and this can change the fortunes of country’s hockey,” he told PTI after the win over Argentina. With France hosting the 2024 Olympics, the French Hockey Federation (FFH) has launched a programme “Ambition Hockey 2024” in its bid to make its national hockey teams a force to reckon with in the quadrennial event in front of home crowd.
As per aims of the programme, which has been inspired by the Belgium hockey team’s success, France expects its men’s team to finish in top five and the women’s team in top 10 in 2024 Paris Olympics. “As FFH President (Olivier Moreau) said earlier, we want to be competitive in 2024 Olympics. We just don’t want to make numbers, we want to give tough fight to our opponents and finish at good position,” the coach said.
“Keeping that in mind the FFH has started the ‘Ambition Hockey 2024’ strategy.” France doesn’t boast of a rich hockey legacy. The last time they were part of the Olympics was way back in 1972 Munich edition. The last World Cup they featured was in 1990.
France team is made up of semi-professionals, most of whom play club hockey in Belgium and work in France. People may think their 5-3 win over Argentina was a fluke, but for France captain Victor Charlet, the win is a result of hard work and a by-product of FFH’s long-term , collective vision.
“Hockey is not big like soccer in France. To achieve success at the top level, we need to keep this group of players together for a long time. That is precisely what Belgium did 10-15 years ago and they are reaping the rewards now,” France captain Charlet said.
And come tomorrow, France would look to take another giant step towards their 2024 goal by reaching the quarterfinals and who knows may be even further.