by Stephen Findlater
Austrian goal-machine Michael Körper is looking forward to making his mark at the new Wagener Stadium, a venue he has many fond memories of for both club and country.
The Harvestehuder THC club man scored a brilliant hat trick to stun Oranje-Zwart in the Euro Hockey League KO8 in 2016, fighting back from 4-1 down before he fired in the winning shoot-out. With Austria, his time was less auspicious but still holds a special place for him. Eight years ago in 2009 was the last time they played in the top level of the EuroHockey Championships with Körper making his way in the international game.
His side finished seventh overall with the striker scoring a couple of goals in their memorable 5-4 win over Poland. They also gave Germany a major scare, locking it at 1-1 until the closing 10 minutes before Christoper and Philipp Zeller scored a goal each to ease the tension.
“It was just a pleasure to play there. I enjoyed every minute we played there,” Körper recalled about the event. “The game against Germany was a good one; we scored our first A-pool goal there so I have good memories from that time. Since we haven’t been there since 2009, we know that its gonna be a hard job to hold on to our status but we know that and are gonna work hard on our goals.”
Körper is one of a couple of genuine superstars in the side along with Oranje-Rood’s Benjamin Stanzl. He scored an incredible 46 times the German league last season and also top scored in the Hockey World League Round 2 in March in Ireland with eight goals, showing his hunger for finding the net, making it over 50 strikes in the past year. He has been one of the country’s trailblazers in trying to raise the level by moving to the bigger leagues around Europe. With smaller resources and playing numbers than many of their rivals at the Europeans, he says that this approach is a requirement if they are to close the gap to the the top nations.
“As an Austrian player, you can just try to play a higher level to raise the level of the national team. We have now a lot of players who are playing abroad: 10 in Germany, one in Holland and Belgium and we also have players who a gonna play next year in Belgium and Germany. But its not only the players are working on that, the federation is doing its best and also our coach is trying to set down a perfect preparation for us.”
That included the Hamburg Masters tournament in June before facing test matches in Vienna against Wales, Russia and Poland. “We learnt a lot at the Hamburg Masters. We were behind the other teams but they had a better preparation because they were going to play the Hockey World League Semi-Final.
But I think we did a good job and got to know on what topics we have to work on before the Europeans. We have to reduce the mistakes in marking. In a high level tournament, you are going to be punished. Things like that, we are going to have to work hard on until the Europeans.”
They face three really tough group opponents with the Netherlands and Belgium – the winners of the two Hockey World League Semi-Finals – along with Spain. “I think it doesn’t matter which group we are in. It’s gonna be a hard job for us and we have to think from game to game. With self-confidence and a good discipline, I think we can surprise some people and teams there. But lets wait and see!”
Tickets are still available. The openingweekend and the finals of the Rabo EuroHockey Championships will be played in front of a packed stadium: all weekend days are already sold out.