A tough workout

India came to the London Olympic Park “in order to learn” according to Coach Michael Nobbs. What was their learning experience? The first learning was about the new ‘blue' pitch and the second about the pace of the game. Over to Susan Edghill.

Four games in five days was a tough workout for the teams at the Visa International Invitational Hockey Tournament at the Olympic Park in London. Some players were beset with injuries. In a warm-up game, Australian Graeme Begbie had an ACL injury and in the first game against India Great Britain's Simon Mantell broke a bone in his foot, the opposite one to that which saw him miss the World Cup in Delhi in 2010. In the ladies final game, British pair Crista Cullen (ankle) and Alex Danson (shoulder) were injured, though how badly has yet to be assessed.

India came to the 2012 Visa International at the London Olympic Park “in order to learn” according to Coach Michael Nobbs. What was their learning experience?

The first learning experience was about the new ‘blue' pitch. Nobbs has been very vociferous about his team's lack of practice on a blue-style pitch and the problems that the team have incurred here. Others, more experienced in Olympic hockey conditions, are less concerned “It is the same experience in every Olympics. You do not know what you will get,” said German coach Marcus Weise. “You know in advance it is not going to be a perfect pitch. This time it has its advantages and disadvantages from my point of view.”

“The pitch is very bouncy,” said Australian coach Ric Charlesworth. “You've got to get better at dealing with that.” Whilst GB coach Jason Lee said, “It will take time to bed down. We have the same pitch at Bisham (Abbey) but it is significantly different.”

The second learning experience was about the pace of the game. In the first match India were caught short at the start of the game and never recovered from that. As they have gone on they have ‘caught up' more with the pace, but still failed to show that killer instinct in front of goal to ensure a victory. They did have their chances in their final match against Great Britain, but after twice hitting the post, they still lost out to a side which were lacking in their own killer instinct. Australia and Germany are No. 1 and 2 in the World and it showed in their opening matches. Their work rate and team understanding were there for all to see. The pace was electric at times, although towards the end of the tournament players were evidently getting tired. Germany though still managed to score five past Australia in the final match.

Most men's teams were without some key players, Australian captain Jamie Dwyer did not play, Great Britain rested Barry Middleton and Richard Mantell; and Germany still have to reduce their squad from 26 players, with both Christopher and Philipp Zeller playing here after being absent from both the World Cup and Champions Trophy.

So this wasn't the final teams, but a large majority of the players who were here WILL be at the Olympics. Indian Coach Nobbs is aiming for a top six finish. India have some great players in the team, but is there enough to ensure this? Their group at the Olympics consists of Germany, Netherlands, Korea, New Zealand and Belgium. With a much improved New Zealand claiming fourth place at December's Champions Trophy, they may have their work cut out to achieve this.

Who will win gold in London in August? Australia are the world champions, but Germany are the reigning Olympic champions and are looking strong. They are coming back after a disappointing Champions Trophy.

The Netherlands have brought back into the team veterans Teun de Nooijer and Taeke Taekema and can never be ruled out of a medal place, although gold in London may just be a bit too far for them at this stage. You should never rule out Spain either who were surprising finalists in Auckland and only narrowly lost to Australia. And if Great Britain can reproduce their European Championship form of 2009, which they showed glimpses of here, in front of their home crowd, they may be in with a shout too.

The ladies tournament was also a good measure of where teams are at the moment. Great Britain failed to concede a single goal at the Riverside Arena, helped not least by the presence of Beth Storry who was once again in fine form. Without the presence of Luciana Aymar & Noel Barrionuevo, Argentina failed to score in two matches against Great Britain, despite eight penalty corners in the final.

They will have to hope that they don't get injured before the Olympics. Of course, The Netherlands were not present, with their club finals taking place simultaneously, but the reigning Olympic Champions must surely be gold medal favourites, losing to Argentina and therefore missing the final in Rosario only on goal shootouts.

Both Korea and China will be in the same pool as GB who won by a slim margin against Korea but put three past China. Germany have been rebuilding their team, but their fourth place in Argentina means they too are on their way back up.