The Netherlands will chase history at the Olympics. The Oranje is trying to become the first nation to win three consecutive field hockey gold medals on the women’s side after winning in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012. This year’s squad features some key mainstays from both winners, including Naomi Van As, Ellen Hoog, Lidewij Welten, Eva de Goede and Maartje Paumen. Welten was the FIH (International Hockey Federation) Player of the Year in 2015, Hoog in 2014, Paumen in 2011 and 2012 and Van As in 2009.
With that veteran core providing a balanced, high-scoring attack and a stout defense that is backed by 2015 FIH Goalkeeper of the Year Joyce Sombroek, the Dutch have remained the top-ranked team in the world.
“Each player has a different ability,” Dutch coach Alyson Annan said. “Each player can do something that some girls can’t. They learn and identify and share with each other, and when someone is weaker at something than another, they fill the gaps for each other.”
Paumen missed the Champions Trophy final against Argentina with a toe injury. A Dutch spokeswoman said Paumen, the top Olympic women’s scorer ever, will be ready to go in Rio.
Second-ranked Argentina was the runner-up to the Netherlands at the 2012 Games and looks to take the next step. Noel Barrionuevo, Carla Rebecchi and Rosario Luchetti were key players on that second-place team and the 2008 team that finished third. Argentina is confident after winning the Champions Trophy over the Netherlands in June, though Paumen could be a difference-maker.
Luciana Aymar, an eight-time FIH Player of the Year who is generally considered the greatest women’s player of all time, has retired from international competition for Argentina. Plenty of talent remains __ Rebecchi was named the top player at the 2016 Champions Trophy event, and Delfina Merino was third in the player of the year voting in 2015.
Australia is ranked No. 3, New Zealand No. 4, the United States No. 5, and China No. 6.
Here are some other things to watch as the women get set to compete:
The Americans haven’t medaled since 1984, when they hosted the Games in Los Angeles, but they showed they might be a threat by winning the Pan American Games last year and placing third in the Champions’ Trophy event this year. The USA made a solid showing in Beijing in 2008, posting draws against Argentina and Japan, which were both ranked in the top five at the time. The Americans qualified in 2012, but finished last. They are back and have their highest ranking ever.
Australia won gold in 1988, 1996 and 2000, but has not medaled since. The No. 3 team in the world features Jodie Kenny, who finished fourth in voting for the 2015 Player of the Year. In 2014, Australia won the Commonwealth Games and lost to the Netherlands in the World Cup final.
The 31-year-old defender was fifth in the FIH Player of the Year balloting in 2014, making her a rare American considered one of the best in the world.
“She’s the captain,” Parnham said. “She’s hugely experienced and has been through many cycles with the USA. She’s a great leader for the team. Not only does she speak well for our team, but she defines her ability on actions and behaviors. She leads by example and is a role model for the younger players.”
Great Britain’s Lily Owsley was honored as the FIH’s Rising Star of the Year in 2015. Now just 21, she helped her squad earn silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the European championship in 2015. She missed part of the year with a broken collarbone, but returned to play in the Champions Trophy event. She’ll try to help her squad improve on its third-place finish at the 2012 Olympics.
United States vs. Argentina, Aug. 6; China vs. Netherlands, Aug. 10; Australia vs. Argentina, Aug. 11; New Zealand vs. Netherlands, Aug. 12; China vs. New Zealand, Aug. 12. Gold medal match, Aug. 19.