VIDEO: Barry Middleton leads England into EuroHockey Championships

Barry Middleton (right)
Barry Middleton (right)

Barry Middleton may have already secured his spot on the plane to the Rio Olympics with Team GB men’s hockey.

But the England captain insists the pressure is not off for his side as they gear up for this week’s Unibet EuroHockey Championships in London.

The 31-year-old from Doncaster – already an international legend with more than 350 caps and 97 goals to his name – will lead the side out once more as world class international hockey returns to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Team GB clinched their Rio berth thanks to their third-place finish at the World League Semi-Finals in Antwerp earlier this year, meaning the England side go into the tournament with a huge weight off their shoulders.

But Middleton is urging his men not to rest on their laurels as they prepare to welcome the likes of international heavyweights Holland, Germany, and Belgium.

“People have been talking to us about Rio a lot,” he said.

“If we had not already qualified we would have to win this tournament to qualify, so people think the pressure is off.

“But for myself, I still want to win it and if we don’t get to the semi-finals I will be massively disappointed.

“In some ways, there’s not that life or death kind of pressure, but I wouldn’t say the pressure is off.

“European hockey is the strongest in the world now, with five or six teams already qualified for the Olympics, and they are the toughest to play against in terms of a different challenge every time.

“The Germans are tactically very strong, whilst the Spanish play in quite a different style to a lot of other teams.

“The Dutch play a free-flowing style and trust their ability on the ball, and that’s what the big challenge of this tournament is, every team is so different.”

Middleton led England to their only previous triumph in the EuroHockey Championships back in 2009, and will be hoping his side can hit top form once again if they are to claim gold in front of a packed-out home crowd.

The squad includes the likes of Alastair Brogdon, Adam Dixon, and England’s all-time leading goalscorer Ashley Jackson who were all a part of that 2009 campaign.

But for Middleton, the tournament will be most useful for the less experienced members of the squad just one year out from Rio.

He added: “You can play practice games and international games, but in the end it comes down to tournament hockey.

“It’s so different to anything else you play, just because of the sheer volume of matches in such a short space of time, and that’s the difference.

“The key thing is getting people used to that intensity.

“You cannot really replicate that apart from in tournaments.”

The Unibet EuroHockey Championships 2015, featuring both England’s men’s and women’ teams, takes place between August 21-30 at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.