Hassan homes in on a tough test

Hassan homes in on a tough test
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Sifan Hassan and Meraf Bahta will meet again at the Warandecross in Tilburg on Sunday 22 November.

Sifan Hassan will begin her long road to a busy summer when she runs on home soil in Tilburg on Sunday - with quite a formidable opponent alongside her.

The 5000m race at the 2014 European Athletics Championships in Zurich between Hassan and Sweden’s Meraf Bahta was a classic and the pair now come together in the Warandecross, one of the biggest cross country events of the winter.

This European Athletics Cross Country Permit meeting takes place just three weeks before the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Hyères, the last major athletics competition of 2015.

It will be an important test for so many on this course in the surroundings of Tilburg University, with team selections still to be finalised for the championships in France.

When Hassan and Bahta met in that 5000m race, the Dutch star had already been crowned 1500m champion and her Swedish counterpart narrowly beat her to gold, the pair divided by just 0.40 in a storming race.

Hassan won the 1500m title at the European Athletics Indoor Championships in Prague in March and then took bronze at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing and is now counting down to next summer with the European Athletics Championships at home in Amsterdam before the Olympic Games in Rio.

Turn back the clock to 2013, when Hassan showed her ability to deliver on any surface as she won the under-23 race at the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade.

Last year in Samokov, Bahta won bronze in the senior race, so it could be another great duel this Sunday, yet it is unlikely to between just the two of them.

Poland’s Iwona Lewandowska, who was eighth in Samokov, is in the field as is Hassan’s Dutch teammate Maureen Koster, the European Indoor 3000m bronze medallist, and Belgium’s Louise Carton, who has been making an impression on the Lotto Cross Cup series this winter.

It's the 57th staging of the event and in the defence of his title, the Netherlands' Khalid Choukoud will face a new teammate in Mohamed Ali Mohamed, the Somalian who has just received his Dutch citizenship. Belgians Bashir Abdi and Atelew Bekele and Austria's Andreas Vojta are among the other leading contenders.

Tilburg staged the SPAR European Cross Country Championships in 2005 and they would like to host the event again. The organisers believe that the field for this Sunday’s race might be their strongest since the championships almost a decade ago.