Ahead of the 15th edition of the FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup taking place in Spain and the Netherlands (1-17 July), we’re conducting a series of exclusive interviews with the participating teams. Today: Michelle Struijk (BEL).

Michelle, it will be the third consecutive FIH Hockey Women’s World Cup for the Red Panthers. How do you feel at the prospect of playing this World Cup?

Of course, we're really excited. For us it's finally again a big tournament, because we missed out on the Olympics. So we're really excited to see where we're at and how we're doing against the biggest countries, let's say like that.

What are your expectations as a team for this World Cup?

It will be nice to see where we're at. If you compare us to other teams, this year was different for us because we've been preparing already for 2-3 years for this World Cup - since missing out on the Olympics - while other teams actually have more like a start of a new cycle. It's just really nice to see how we're going to do. It will be a confirmation if we're doing well or what we have to do different.

You are reaching the end of the FIH Hockey Pro League season. What key learnings do you take from this experience?

It's really cool to see that at every game we become better at things and make less mistakes. For the Pro League, the result doesn't matter that much. Of course, you want to win every game, you want to have the three points, you want to get points to get higher in the rankings. But the most important thing is that we just finetune everything towards the World Cup.

You are in a Pool with Australia, Japan and South Africa. How do you look at each of these teams?

It's a really interesting group for sure because it's all countries from outside Europe. So, these are countries that we haven't faced since a very long time. Of course, these teams haven't played a lot of games, so it's going to be a bit of a surprise. It’s maybe an advantage or a disadvantage, but eventually you just play your own game. I'm really excited to play against them.

Have you personally played any of these teams?

We played Australia already a few times with the FIH Hockey Pro League of course. Every time we had a pretty good result against them. They are a team that suits us, let's say. Then, we have Japan. We played them at the last World Cup in London. I've never played South Africa, so that's a bit new.

Do you have any message for your fans?

I hope we can play some really nice hockey at the World Cup. We're going to do our best. We're going to work really hard. Thank you for the support!