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The 2018 World Lacrosse Championships are rapidly approaching, and we couldn’t be more excited! Netanya, Israel will play host to the 46-team tournament that will decide a World Champion, as give a finite ranking to how one nation stacks up compared to another. Our coverage of these games has been and will be thorough and complete, continuing now with this series detailing the 14 pools (13 of 3 + Blue of 6).
There is no particular order I’ll be going in, and today’s decision is to go with the white group of Japan, Netherlands, and Norway.
This pool was one of two pools altered by the self-excusing of Bulgaria and Haiti. Initially a pool of Japan – Uganda – Bulgaria, Uganda was shifted over to the Olive Group and the two top tier teams of Netherlands – Norway – Haiti were shifted in to the white group to form the “group of kinda-sorta death”.
YELLOW – 2018 World Championships Preview
Japan arrives in Netanya with something to prove. Dare I say that the vast majority of teams arriving do not have ambitions of a World Championships, with many not even seeing themselves escape pool play. Japan comes in reloaded and ready to prove that they not only deserve to be in the Blue Group, but that they deserve to be on the podium with medals around their necks when the dust clears.
In the time since 2014, Japan has been absolutely cleaning house in Asia. With only one other Blue Group competitor in their region, it’s been primarily in-house competition that is spurring on Japanese improvement. That said, Japan has not hesitated to attend events like the Southern Cross tournament in Australia, a reciprocal hosting of Australia roughly a month later, as well as participating in regional ASPAC games in 2015 and 2017. Both ASPAC games since Denver have resulted in Gold for Japan, notably with a two goal win over Australia in 2017’s edition of the bi-annual tournament.
Japanese teams will floor you by ten goals before you can get your second midfield on, and it’s never one player’s doing. Identifying a ‘best player’ or the guy you really need to deny the ball on Japan is pointless in my opinion. It is a team system that all 23 players buy into that takes Japan to great heights.
One of the main proponents of lacrosse growth in Europe has been the Netherlands. New clubs are forming constantly in the Netherlands, and with a rise in participation will always come a rising level of play to match. Universities and cities across the small country boast dense populations that make populating teams and clubs feasible. Close proximity to populous German and Belgian league and tournaments offers the benefit of constant competition for Dutch players, and we’ll see how that will benefit the Netherlands in a few short weeks.
2014 was a tough road for the Dutch. Key wins early propelled the Netherlands to win the group stages, but tough losses to New Zealand (10-14) and a heartbreak loss to Finland (8-9) dropped the Dutch to the 13-16 bracket, where two additional losses had the team finishing 16th overall – an absolutely respectable finish given their strength of schedule.
2016 Brought about the European Championships, which saw a 7th place finish for the Netherlands. The Dutchmen suffered two straight losses to Germany (5-9) and Wales (5-12) before capping off a well-deserved win over 2014’s Blue Group addition, Scotland (11-8).
The Dutch have their work cut out for them in this group, but the boys seem to be up to the task. Most recently we say the Netherlands in the Barcelona City Tournament, a gather of European National Teams and a little-known American college team by the name of the University of Notre Dame. Seeing these regional foes so recently will have the Dutch prepared, and we look forward to seeing the men take the field!
Norway comes in seeded third in this “group of kinda-sorta death”. A booming University scene and a professionally structured approach to the game’s development domestically is propelling both the men’s and women’s teams forward in regional and world rankings. The Norge will look to continue that trend in Israel in a few short weeks.
I was a little surprised to see Norway was so far down 2014’s podium, but that just has me that much more excited to see what can really be accomplished in four short years. Denver saw Norway’s progresses impeded by a pivotal group-play loss to Italy (9-14) that resulted in a three-way tie that did not result in Norway’s favor. Coming out third in a pool of four led the Norge to regionally significant games with a win over Russia (14-7) before being once again knocked down by the dark horse of the decade, Latvia (8-15).
A final placement of 25th of 38 is, in my mind, a disappointing finish for such a prominent program. The European Championships were not infinitely kinder to Norway, but a 12th place finish was highlighted with a key upset win over Ireland (10-8), and two narrow losses to UK kingpins Scotland (10-12) and Wales (5-6)
Recent competition has seen Norwegian clubs putting on strong performances. The host team of Oslo won the Scandinavian Cup back in February, as well as attended the Ken Galluccio Cup back in September after winning the Norwegian League prior. Most recently the Norge were present in Barcelona for the Barcelona City Tournament. Deja Vu? Have you heard of any other teams attending this tournament? Maybe like four paragraphs up?
White Group Matchups
Japan will come in to this pool as the 1-seed favorite after an 8th place finish led to their blue group relegation in 2014. This is the first time Japan has been knocked out of the Blue group since their joining the coveted crew of elite teams. The Netherlands will also come in as a 1-seed after a 16th place finish in Denver. Norway comes in as the lowest seed, but is still technically a 2-seed because of the group restructuring. Two teams will move on as 1-seeds out of group play, with the lesser of the three teams still exiting with a 2-seed.
Netherlands vs. Norway
Thursday, July 12 09:15 Wingate Field 1
Quite honestly, this might be the best matchup that exists in pool play. Norway is quickly on the rise, and the Netherlands are a long-standing force to be reckoned with on the European stage. I imagine that we’ll be seeing a young and fast Norwegian team trying to figure out this well-established Dutch squad early on. I anticipate lead changes, multiple 2-4 goal runs for each team, and it will all come down to the last few minutes. One key matchup to watch is at the faceoff X.
Netherland’s faceoff expert was named to the President’s team in Denver, and if I’m not mistaken Norway’s faceoff specialist won that same honor at the European Championships in 2016 (I can’t find that list of All-Euro players from EC16 anywhere, but I was on the committee voting, and I remember a group consensus agreeing the kid had a brilliant tournament).
These two teams met in 2014 where the Netherlands suffered a short-lived heart-break overtime loss to Norway (11-12). Norway’s celebration was short-lived, as a loss to Italy resulted in a three-way tie and saw the overtime victor Noway relegated.
Norway vs. Japan
Friday, July 13 15:15pm Wingate Field 3
Japan is coming in to these games with a 2014 fall from grace to rectify, and Norway is coming in trying to prove they belong in the conversation of best programs in the world. Physical prowess might belong to Norway if we’re looking at the card, but speed and a tested team plan will be Japan’s advantage in not just these pool play games, but far into the tournament.
Japan is used to being physically smaller than their opponents, and have a history of ignoring that as a disadvantage and just playing outstanding lacrosse with mitigated mistakes. Norway comes in as the 3-seed and therefore a major underdog, but I really do have confidence we’ll see a vastly improved Norge.
Japan vs. Netherlands
Friday, July 14 11:15 Wingate Field 5
This game’s importance is decided two day’s prior. If the Netherlands are able exact revenge on the 2014 OT loss, then they will escape this group as a 1 seed regardless (unless Norway beats Japan in that scenario… then it would REALLY be 2014 Deja Vu). If the Dutch are not able to secure a win in game one, they will be do-or-die in this matchup with Japan.
I would be surprised if Japan’s game plan is any different for the Dutch as it is versus the Norge. The onus will be on Netherlands to somehow throw Japan off their game. If Japan is allowed to do the things that makes Japan successful, it won’t just be Netherlands and Norway in trouble, but the entire field of nations with Championship hopes.
Any of the teams in this pool can suffer a loss and still come out as a one seed, but the chance of the 2-0 and the 1-1 team seeing each other again in just two short rounds does exist. Winner of White will see the winner of Finland/Austria/Columbia vs. White-2. The “loser” of White will come out with a 2-seed, and will be eliminated from Gold Medal contention. That 2-seed for the bottom team is why the kinda-sorta exists in the official title of “group of kinda-sorta death”.
Two Japanese players attended the Denver Outlaws Open Tryout, and both were named to a practice roster. Toma Tamura is a faceoff specialist and Kaisuke Iwamoto is a goalie. This speaks volume about the rising level of play in Japanese lacrosse, and we look forward to seeing more names coming stateside in the near future!
All three of these nations are domestic powerhouses that are benefiting largely from the model of targeting university-age athletes and introducing lacrosse to them at the age of 18 or so. Japan’s bell-curve of how good these guys get in a few short years is a testament to the discipline, instruction, and the intensity level of local competition that forces players to advance rapidly.
I coached a Japanese team in Hong Kong this past March in a series of friendly games versus Hong Kong’s Representative Team. Some of my players had one year under their belt, and I believe the most experienced guy had three… and these guys were awesome!
Netherlands and Norway is the matchup. I already talked about this, but this is the side note, the tagline, and the headliner. This is arguably one of the tightest matches on the hard schedule. Anyone can predict what matchups will happen later on down the line, but this one is on paper, and it’s 100% happening on day ONE!