Hockey: England ready for Spanish opener

ENGLAND WOMEN'S disappointing World Cup campaign in Utrecht last year has taken some of the pressure off the squad as they prepare for their opening game against Spain in the European Cup in Cologne today.

Their ninth place last summer might suggest that they are something of a soft touch. That, however, would be a dangerous assumption. Since then they have finished second to Australia in the Commonwealth Games and reorganised their resources.

The team will also be fortified for the meeting with the Barcelona Olympic champions, by a draw and a win over them 10 days ago at Milton Keynes. But it will not be an easy game and England will need to work hard to break down a Spanish defence marshalled by the very experienced Carmen Barea.

England will be conscious that Spain beat them 3-1 in the last semi-final of the European Cup four years ago when they went on to lose in the final to the Dutch. With Germany in the same pool, a win against Spain is essential to England's semi-final hopes. The other teams in the pool are Ireland, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.

In the other pool, the strong Dutch squad, who beat Spain 6-0 in a final practice game last Sunday in Amsterdam, are strongly fancied to take the gold medal and with it automatic qualification for the Sydney Olympics. Scotland could well take the second place in this pool.

ENGLAND SQUAD (v Spain, European Cup, Cologne, today): K Brown (capt), F Greenham, J Smith, A Bennett, S Chandler, M Nicholson (all Slough), T Cullen, K Walsh, C Reid (all Hightown), J Empson, M Clewlow (all Canterbury), K Bowden, H Richardson (all Fyffes Leicester), L King, L Catchpole (all Ipswich), J Sixsmith, H Rose (all Sutton Coldfield), L Wright (all Olton).