Sam Ward: Expect heavy metal hockey from Team GB in Tokyo

Hockey star Sam Ward promises nothing but blood and thunder from Team GB in Tokyo. 

The striker walks the talk when it comes to getting stuck in - strolling around the team's holding camp in Yokohama, there's barely a British physio he hasn't been treated by. 

Danny Kerry's England proved at June's European Championships they can bully the likes of Belgium - the best team in the world - and the plan is to keep elbows out as Team GB.

"Nothing better than a good challenge and a battle," said Ward.

"We stamped our authority on the fitness and physical side of the game at the Europeans. That's just credit to our support staff, the shape they get us into. 

"We said: 'we're here, now we're going to take on the best in the world.' Backing each other up is the key to the physical side of the game.

"We pride ourselves on our fitness. We have one of the best full-time programmes in the world. 

"We're definitely in the top three fittest sides at the Olympics, if not the fittest."

Ward is a threat in both circles. At short corners, you'll find him as a defensive runner alongside RAF aircraftman Liam Sanford and as a drag-flicker at attacking set plays. 

The 30-year-old late bloomer scored six goals at the recent Euros, making him joint top scorer and cementing his status as one of the top forward players in the world game. 

Team GB have been handed a tough draw for the group stage, opening in a week's time, with the top European sides clustered together in Group B. 

They will face World Cup winners Belgium, newly-minted European champions Netherlands and Rio bronze medallists Germany in the preliminary phase. 

"There are two ways of looking at our group," said Ward. "You've got to beat the top-ranked nations in the world to medal, we know that, and we know that if we make it out of the group we'll be in that bracket and who knows who you draw. 

"We've got to prove we deserve a medal. Having a tough group might help us through the tournament in the long run.  "If you get wins in the group games, you're happy to take on anyone. I hope the squad view it in the same way."

Sam's guide to Team GB's group opponents

South Africa (Sat 24 July, 18:30 local time)

We haven't seen a lot of them of late. The one thing I know is that they'll be a fit, physical bunch. They've got a couple of very experienced players and a good drag-flicker. They'll want to win plenty of corners off us and take chances from there. 

Canada (Monday 26 July, 11:15)

We last played them in 2017 to qualify for the World Cup. They like to put their challenges in. We need to keep our composure against a team like that and avoid getting drawn into the battle.

Germany (Tuesday 27 July, 12:15)

We've just played them in the European Championships and they're a cracking side. They're a tactical side and we need to be ready to shut down their threats and stop the way they manoeuvre the ball. 

Netherlands (Thursday 29 July, 12:15)

They play the same system as Belgium. They've got a couple of very experienced, very skilful players and an excellent goalkeeper. They will look to hit us on the counter.

Belgium (Friday 30 July, 21:15)

They will come out, sit deep and then attack us on the counter. We've just got to stop them. Simple as that, basically! 

Sportsbeat 2021