The 12 best teams in world hockey will gather in The Hague from May 31 until June 15 for the Rabobank Hockey World Cup, international hockey's biggest tournament outside of the Olympics.
Hosts and favourites, the Netherlands, failed to take home the gold medal in both the men's and women's categories in 2010, and they will be backed by a fiery home crowd, with reports that all 16 matchdays have already sold out.
The Australian men and Argentine women will defend their titles from four years ago over the course of the next two weeks against one of the deepest fields ever assembled, with nations like Belgium and Spain also staking their claim to the title.
Here are the four groups that will be used in the 2014 World Cup:
|2014 Hockey World Cup Groups|
|Men's||Group A||Group B|
|Women's||Group A||Group B|
Teams will play all of their group opponents once, with the top two from every group advancing to the semi-final. Tie-breakers will go to wins first, with goal differential second.
The schedule for the first two days of competition:
|2014 World Cup Fixture Schedule|
|Date||Competition||Team A||v||Team B|
|Saturday, May 31||Men||Australia||v||Malaysia|
|Saturday, May 31||Women||New Zealand||v||Belgium|
|Saturday, May 31||Women||Australia||v||Korea|
|Saturday, May 31||Men||Belgium||v||India|
|Saturday, May 31||Men||England||v||Spain|
|Saturday, May 31||Women||Netherlands||v||Japan|
|Sunday, June 1||Men||Germany||v||South Africa|
|Sunday, June 1||Women||England||v||USA|
|Sunday, June 1||Women||Germany||v||China|
|Sunday, June 1||Men||Netherlands||v||Argentina|
|Sunday, June 1||Men||New Zealand||v||Korea|
|Sunday, June 1||Women||Argentina||v||South Africa|
For the full schedule, visit the event's official website.
England will be facing a difficult task escaping from a treacherous men's Group A including defending champions Australia, India, Spain and Belgium.
The Belgians defeated England during last week's Four Nations tournament on their way to an overall win, beating the Netherlands on goal difference.
One of the sport's emerging countries, Belgium, will be England's main rivals for the second ticket to the knockout stages, behind favourites Australia.
India have fallen down the pecking order of world hockey a bit, but the team is not to be underestimated, and the country seems to be taking the 2014 World Cup very seriously. Even cricket star Virat Kohli wants his compatriots to do well:
Michael Hoare believes England should be able to improve on their 2010 performance, which saw the team advance to the semi-finals. He told The Guardian's Rod Gilmour even the gold should be a possibility:
I don't see why we can't get gold; we've got the capabilities to beat anyone on our day. We've played a lot of the top teams recently in the last year and half and we've beaten all of them so I don't see why we can't do it.
Belgium's dominance on penalty corners gives that team the edge, however, and punters should be wary of the team's meteoric rise in world hockey.
The hosts and Germany are the clear favourites in Group B, where New Zealand will be looking to challenge either of the perennial contenders for a top-two finish.
The Argentine men have failed to duplicate the successes of the women's team in recent years, while South Africa simply don't have the depth to compete with some of Europe's top nations.
Predictions: Australia and Belgium advance from Group A, Netherlands beat out Germany for the top spot in Group B.
The Netherlands are the strong favourites for the women's gold, thanks to home-field advantage and a relatively easy draw in Group A, where Australia are the team's main competitors.
Unlike the men's team, the Belgian women's squad is young and experienced, and along with Korea, Japan and New Zealand, they shouldn't challenge the two title contenders all that much.
Group B features a nightmare draw for the English team, who will have to take on defending champions Argentina and a German team looking to improve on 2010's fourth-place finish.
Argentina will be the favourites by a slim margin, but the race for second is wide open. Both England and Germany feature a solid blend of youthful explosiveness and experience, and defence will be key when these two teams meet on the last matchday.
Predictions: Netherlands and Australia do what they need to do, England repeat their heroics from 2010 to join Argentina in the semi-finals.
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