Tokyo 2020: Great Britain's women need to create own legacy by qualifying - Mark Hager

By Ross BoneBBC Sport
Great Britain's women head coach Mark Hager
Great Britain head coach Mark Hager took over in January 2019

Great Britain's women must "create their own legacy" by taking their last chance to secure a place at the 2020 Olympics, says head coach Mark Hager.

The Olympic champions face world number 18 side Chile over two legs on consecutive days at Lee Valley in London this weekend.

Great Britain's men play Malaysia, with Olympic qualification also on the line.

"People look at this team as though it's the team that won in Rio and it's not," Hager told BBC Sport.

"There are only seven of those women still in the team.

"It's a new side and a new era and they've got to create their own legacy going forwards."

For both the women's and men's Olympic qualifying play-offs, the team with the highest aggregate score across the two ties will qualify for Tokyo, while the loser will miss out.

Great Britain's women have never previously faced Chile - nicknamed Las Diablas - in a competitive game.

Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch, one of the members of that gold medal-winning side, said she is relaxed about the challenge despite facing unknown opponents and the high stakes of the two-match series.

"When people use the language 'do or die' it sounds like the world is ending, so of course it makes it a nervy occasion," she said.

"It's like going into an exam knowing you've done all your homework - you have to feel ready and that'll get rid of the fear. That's how we'll approach this weekend.

"We might start a bit nervy because of what's on the line but once we're settled we should start connecting and showing the progress we've made."

GB goalkeeper Maddie Hinch
Goalkeeper Maddie Hinch is one of only seven Rio gold medalists still in the squad

Since winning the Olympic title in 2016, Great Britain have endured a difficult transitional period.

High-profile players such as Helen Richardson-Walsh, Kate Richardson-Walsh, Sophie Bray and Crista Cullen have retired, whilst Alex Danson, England and Great Britain's joint leading scorer of all time has been out with a long-term head injury.

The team finished second bottom in the inaugural FIH Pro League where they won only three of their 16 matches outright.

They were knocked out of the World Cup in the quarter finals by eventual winners the Netherlands and at the 2019 European Championships, the same opponents ended their gold medal hopes with an 8-0 thrashing in the semi-finals.

Hinch, who described that semi-final defeat as the worst moment of her career, says squad are only looking to the future.

"There aren't many gold medal winners left in the squad but we've tried to share what we experienced," she said.

"One of the main things was telling them it wasn't always a smooth journey. We had our ups and downs and that's what this group has had. The down moments are important for you to learn and reflect. Rio's in the past now. It's a whole new journey and whole new squad.

"Let's get the job done this weekend and see where that leaves us."

Pinner has 'unfinished business' with Olympics

Men's goalkeeper George Pinner, a veteran of almost 200 international matches, said he knows the pressure of this weekend is immense.

"These are two of the most important matches I've ever played in," he said.

"This is unique in terms of turning up on Saturday and Sunday knowing we either do the business or we don't go to the Olympics."

Great Britain's men went to Rio 2016 targeting a medal but in a disappointing campaign failed to make it out of the group stages.

They have since changed coach, with Danny Kerry moving over from the women's team to replace the departing Bobby Crutchley.

Kerry's side finished fourth in the FIH Pro League but had a disappointing tournament at the 2019 EuroHockey Championships, missing out on a medal for the first time in 12 years.

"The big driver for me continuing after Rio was to right a few wrongs," said Pinner.

"Having said that, this isn't the be all and end all. I want this more than anything. I want to qualify. I want to be part of that group for Tokyo. I want to win a medal.

"But you have to frame it in the grand scheme of things - the Olympics cannot become something you're so desperate for that you tighten up."

George Pinner
George Pinner has 189 international caps combined for England and Great Britain

At stake for both squads is not just a place at the Olympics. Failure to qualify for one or both teams could have serious repercussions in terms of the funding hockey receives from UK Sport.

For the Tokyo Olympic cycle, Great Britain hockey has received around £17m. This allows the athletes to train full time at Bisham Abbey as part of a centralised programme. If qualification is not secured, that money and the athletes' status as full-time professionals could be in serious jeopardy.

"We've been quite open and frank about it," captain Adam Dixon said.

"We've planned for the worst case scenario but we realise we've got to go out and rather than playing with fear, play with confidence and take it to Malaysia."

Come Sunday evening both sides will either be beginning preparations for Tokyo, or the inquest into what went wrong.

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