Following the conclusion of the Asia Cup hockey we questioned the scheduling of the fixtures and whether they were fair on all teams and enabled the tournament to come to a conclusion with the two finalists rested and at their best. (Should Match Schedules Be Reviewed?)
Sadly as the Hockey World League finals approach their conclusion in Bhubaneswar questions are now being raised as to the format of the tournament and whether once again some teams benefitting dramatically over others, and whether that could impact the quality of the Final.
Yet as much as these issues are being aired in certain quarters it must be said that the format of the tournament was revealed a long time before the tournament started, and as far as we can ascertain no one raised any concerns then. Also one must take into account that the format for the tournament has been identical for the past two events. So why are people upset now?
The issue that appears to have some a little hot under the collar is that fact that teams in Pool A played their last round robin games on December 5th and two of those teams will have to back up and play on the 6th in the quarter-finals.
The teams in Pool B contesting those matches will have had a day’s rest while the teams contesting the other quarter-finals will have had two days rest.
Both of the teams from Pool A, Belgium who finished top, and Spain who finished second were eliminated in the quarter finals by India and Australia respectively.
It should be noted that India are in the semi-finals without winning a game in normal time. In their pool games they drew with Australia and lost to England and Germany. In their quarter final they drew with Belgium and won in a shoot out. Could they make it to the final without winning a game? That would be extraordinary if it were the case.
In fact only Argentina from Pool A, the group that had to play their quarter finals without a day’s rest progressed to the Semi-Finals.
In the inaugural event in 2013/14 this was not an issue as all of the final pool games were played on the same day, there was a day off for all teams, and then all of the quarter-finals were played on the same day.
In 2014/15 two of the teams who were given a two-day rest, the Netherlands and India both progressed in their quarter finals, while Australia and Belgium managed to make the semi-finals with no rest.
Once again the scheduling, as it did two years ago, will see the two winners from the games on the 6th play off for a place in the final on the 8th of December. While the victors in the other quarter-finals will play off in the other semi final on the 9th of December.
So India will have enjoyed a days rest while their opponents Argentina will once again have to play back-to-back games to progress to the final. Both Germany and Australia in the other semi-final will have had a day’s rest.
The final this year will be played on 10th of December, giving the first semi-finalist a day’s rest after their game while their opponent will have 24 hours to recover.
In 2014/15 the same thing occurred. Australia and the Netherlands played their semi-finals on the 4th of December while India and Belgium played on the 5th. India and Belgium had to back up the next day, to play respectively the Bronze-medal match and the final. India won in a dramatic shoot out after conceding two goals in the last two minutes to draw 5-5 with the Netherlands; they had been 5-3 ahead with four minutes to go. How much did fatigue have to do with allowing the Dutch back into the game?
In the final, Australia were victorious over Belgium 2-1 with the Red Dragons goal coming in the very last minute. How much did that day’s rest assist Australia?
Questions were raised by students of the game prior to the tournament by those who studied the format as to whether teams would look to deliberately finish in a position that would see them contest the quarter-finals on the 6th in order to take full advantage of the extra rest time.
So why did the format change from 2013/14? It seemed to work perfectly well.
Quite why the semi-finals could not be played on the same day and allow both teams a day’s rest to ensure the final is a showcase event is baffling. No doubt it is because no one raised the issue two years ago when two teams from each pool were in the semi-finals. This year with three from the same pool in the semi-finals questions are now being raised, but regrettably it appears after the event, instead of before.
As stated the format is the same as two years ago, everyone participating saw the schedule prior to the event starting. If they did have concerns they should have been raised then.