Poland is ready to host another event in a busy summer with Skierniewice the venue for the men’s EuroHockey Championship III following hot on the heels of the women’s Hockey5s in Walcz.
The event features six teams with the hosts facing Gibraltar, Croatia, Lithuania, Malta and Serbia in a single, round-robin group which gets under way on Monday.
Here’s the background on this week’s teams.
** All games will be shown live on www.eurohockeytv.org
Poland (WR: 28)
Hosts Poland are competing in the third tier for the first time and, based on world rankings and prior events, will be one of the main challengers having finished fourth in the second tier in both 2019 and 2021 in Gniezno.
The squad features a quarter from WKS Grunwald Poznan and the Wojciech Rutkowski and Marcin Szczęsny from new national champions KS Pomorzanin Torun.
Otherwise, they have a smattering of players based elsewhere. There is a trio from Belgian club Pingouin – Jakub Chucmencxuk, Tomasz and Eryk Bembenek – while Robert Pawlak is with Indiana. In Germany, Jacek Kurowski is with TSV Mannheim and Maksymilian Koperski plays for GTHGC Hamburg.
Recently, they have shown up well to beat second tier sides Ukraine 3-2 and the Czech Republic 1-0
Gibraltar (WR: 50)
Gibraltar return to European Championship III action having and will be looking to emulate their run to the semi-finals in 2019 when they edged out Portugal in a shoot-out for bronze in the end.
The side is much changed since then; indeed, there is a changing of the guard from their 2022 qualifiers campaign in Scotland and they have a side with a range of experiences with four teenagers in the line-up while 49-year-old Adrian Bado is also included.
Julian Lopez captains the side and will be a key man in front of goal; he has scored 14 times in 21 internationals while Kayron Stagno, Julian Hernandez and goalkeeper Joseph Borg are the experienced heads in the side.
Croatia (WR: 53)
Croatia will be looking to repeat their 2019 heroics when they landed gold in Championship III in Gibraltar when they got the best of Switzerland in the final.
In preparation, they won a tri-nations series with a 3-2 victory over Hungary and a 7-3 success against this week’s rivals Serbia. Josip Krleža was among the goals with a hat trick against the Hungarians while Josip Jazbec and Mario Illinović got two each against the Serbs.
In last year’s qualifiers, they were more than competitive against the likes of Ukraine and Italy while their club sides HAHK Mladost (third in Trophy II) and SK Zelina (third in Challenge I) doing well in their European club competitions to give them confidence for the week ahead.
Lithuania are playing their first capped matches since last summer when they had a tough time in their qualifiers in Calais, falling to France, Ireland and Türkiye. In 2021, they ended in sixth place in Lousada in Championships III.
Their wider panel does have plenty of young guns in it, including a quartet of those who lined out for the Under-18s in Wales last week. Algirda Jackevicius and Matvydas Pocevicius are experienced heads in the squad.
They meet Malta for the sixth time in eight years, winning four of those encountered but they did fall 1-0 the last time they played in 2021.
Malta (WR: 73)
Malta will be competing in Championship III for the fourth successive edition having ended in fifth in 2017, eighth in 2019 and seventh in 2021. They will be coached this time by the recently appointed head coach Chris Attard who was assistant in 2019 and 2021.
They will look to the experience of English-based Tom Degiovanni and his brother Zak along with Shaun Grima and captain Joseph Cuschieiri who are all playing in their fifth European competition.
These fixtures will be their first on the international stage since 2021 but their club sides Qormi Daikin (winners in Challenge III) and Sliema Hostsicks (third in Challenge II) did enjoy strong European club campaigns.
Serbia (WR: 94)
Serbia are taking part in just their second ever European competition outdoors with the previous being a third place in Championship IV in 2007 in Predanovci. As such, it is uncharted territory for the squad who have played just four international fixtures in the past few years.
The first couple in June 2022 against Croatia and Hungary while last month they played the same opposition in Zagreb to help their preparations.
The team is captained by Michae Dorgan who is a dual cricket and hockey international for his adopted country having grown up in South Africa. At 94th, they are the third lowest ranked side in the FIH rankings but a couple of wins could soon see them move up the list.