In fewer than 60 days, the biggest international lacrosse event in history will begin with 48 countries from six continents fighting for global lacrosse supremacy in Israel.
After 175 clashes, one nation will assert its world dominance, but before the final whistle of the final game blows, there will be plenty of smaller victories to be had.
In just the tournament’s first three days, lacrosse lunatics everywhere will be treated to marquee matchups and potential statement games well before the gold medal is earned.
Here are six of the many can’t-miss contests that will help define the 2018 World Championships.
Hong Kong vs. Luxembourg
Wednesday, July 11 @ 7:30 pm local time
Luxembourg’s debut as a lacrosse nation will have the added attention of playing the only game slated for July 11. The games officially kick off the following day, but field and scheduling constraints forced these teams to face off one day early.
Hong Kong is a rising power in Asia that will look to capitalize on the eyes fixated on the day’s only fixture. The player to watch is Evan Mok-Lamme, an attackman who played college ball at Illinois Wesleyan. In 2017, he scored 35 goals with 17 assists and was named First Team All-College Conference of Illinois. He now lives full time in Hong Kong, bringing lacrosse to local youth by traveling from school to school introducing the game. Hong Kong is also coming off of two-straight Hong Kong Lacrosse Open championships with strong coaching from Scott Browning, a testament to the booming domestic lacrosse movement.
No one can quite be sure what to expect from Luxembourg given the program’s novelty. It is likely a more-established brand like Hong Kong will be able to impose its will against the newcomers, but we can’t know for sure until the game is played.
Japan vs. Uganda
Thursday, July 12 at 8:30 am
While this game isn’t expected to be a close one, the intrigue is still there.
Uganda is the only African country coming in the 2018 World Championships, and it will be the nation’s second appearance in the competition. In 2014, Uganda was the tournament’s darling, pulling a sold-out crowd in its first-ever game, a matchup with Ireland, and earning its first World Championships victory against South Korea later in the event. For the Cranes, this July provides an opportunity to keep up the momentum started four years ago and the continued push to pull lacrosse along in Uganda and the continent as a whole.
For Japan, its sights will likely be set for later in the tournament as the Japanese will be starving to get back into the Blue Division. After failing to finish in the top six in 2014, this will be Japan’s first World Championships outside of the Blue Division since 2002. Midfielder and faceoff specialist Toma Tamura and goalie Kaisuke Iwamoto both made the Denver Outlaws’ training roster and will be in Netanya to headline the Japanese squad.
Netherlands vs. Norway
Thursday, July 12 at 9:15 am
This game pits two European powers against one another, each with different stories to tell as of late. Norway surpassed expectations in 2016 at the European Championships, beating Ireland in pool play en route to a 12th-place finish. The Dutch finished seventh, and with the middle of European lacrosse being a muddled mess, the differences among places six through 12 can often be razor thin. Even with Norway’s momentum, though, the Dutch are traditionally strong and should not be discounted.
Both teams have the ability to ruin someone’s day if a giant were to come into a matchup asleep. But before that can happen, these teams must settle it on the field themselves.
Scotland vs. Australia
Friday, July 13 at 6 pm
Australia will undoubtedly be back with a vengeance after failing to medal for the first time in a World Championship four years ago in Denver. How better to test the Aussies’ mettle than to face against the Scots, who earned their first Blue Division appearance ever after finishing a national-best sixth place in 2014?
Nigel Morton is back to lead Australia as one of the team’s captains after scoring seven goals and notching 11 points in 2014. His experience and production will be important for Australia to get back onto the podium, and he will be needed for the team’s opener.
This is uncharted territory for Scotland. In 2014, the team proved it could make it to the highest level, finishing 6-2, defeating Japan in double overtime to take its top-six spot and narrowly falling to the Iroquois and England by two goals each. Now it’s time for the Scots to show if they can hang with the sport’s big boys with a possible medal run in their sights. But first, Australia stands in the way.
Puerto Rico vs. Wales
Friday, July 13 at 6:45 pm
This game has the potential to be an instant classic between two programs vying to make noise at the international level. Puerto Rico will make its World Championships debut, but despite its inexperience, expectations for the island are high. The team boasts plenty of current and former high-level NCAA talent, as well as former MLL players Lance Yapor and Ricky Pages, and could find enough success to play its way into the 2022 Blue Group.
But first, Puerto Rico will have to navigate through Wales, a young program with aspirations of its own. Although the Welsh don’t have the same hype as Puerto Rico, the newcomers would be remiss to overlook the fourth-place finishers at the 2016 European Championships. Wales finished a modest 17th in 2014, but nothing would make a bigger statement than to kill the buzz surrounding the Puerto Ricans in the first game.
Canada vs. England
Friday, July 13 at 9 pm
A normal game between these two teams would be interesting enough, but with the uncertainly surrounding Team Canada at the moment, nobody knows what we will see when these two teams take the field. Will it be the 23 Canadians originally slated to compete at the World Championships? A separate roster completely? A mix of both? Beyond those questions, more will swirl about how the public disagreements in the previous months could distract the Canadian athletes and the mental state of the whole program. Doubters could be quieted quickly with a strong performance against a well-respected England side.
We do have a better idea of what we will get from England, though. Josh Sherry-Brennan looks to be a large part of the English offense with the attackman recently scoring nine goals in four games in an exhibition series against Team Israel in April. England was able to take five games out of five from the Israelis on the tour, and head coach Tom Wenham left the series feeling much more comfortable with his squad than before. But his team’s first test will be a major one regardless of what Team Canada brings to Netanya. We will learn a lot about both teams by the end of the first night.
Look for these games on ESPN+ and the ESPN Networks!