Tournament is the perfect stop on the Road to London
With 240 days to go until the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, the coaches and umpires are using the event to fine tuning their preparations for the Games and qualifying tournaments.
Up for grabs for the winner of the event in Johannesburg is a place in next year’s prestigious Champions Trophy in Australia. Teams are also conscious of the ranking points at stake which ultimately decide the composition of pools at major tournaments in future.
Argentina and Belgium are the only two teams qualified for London 2012, a position which gives their coaching staff a slightly different set of priorities to the other sides which face Olympic qualifying tournaments next year.
Belgium’s coach Colin Batch confesses he is in an enviable position saying it gives him a great opportunity to blood new players. Bert Wentink, technical director of the Royal Belgium Hockey Federation, emphasised his team’s primary goal was to win the tournament and qualify for the Champions Trophy for the first time ever.
He added: “The timing of these events is always difficult because whilst it may benefit European countries, November doesn’t necessarily suit teams coming from other parts of the world. Timing and budgets are the critical issues here.
“But playing in the Champions Challenge 1 gives us a wonderful chance to start our preparations for London. It’s all about developing the squad.”
It is a goal the umpires are also working towards. The final selection for London has not yet been made giving individual umpires the incentive to turn in their best displays and merit Olympic selection.
The umpire managers have been hard at work setting out the standards required for the Olympics and building relationships with the teams.
Clive McMurray, the umpire manager, said it is imperative all the teams and umpires know exactly what is expected of them. Communication and mutual respect are critical. He added:” Both parties must have a clear understanding and be on the same page. We’ll also be reviewing all the matches to see where coaches and teams are trying anything we haven’t previously been aware of.”
It’s hardly surprising that Argentina, the highest ranked side in the tournament at No 8 in the world, struggled to find form in their opening match with their players having come off an arduous club season followed by the Pan-American Games in October.
Head coach Pablo Lombi admits the programme has taken its toll saying his squad are very tired. Five new players have been included and Lombi is understandably anxious to use the time in South Africa to give them experience.” They need to play at a higher level and learn to fit in to our systems.
“But we have our sights set on qualifying for the Champions Trophy which is another step up for us. Playing the top teams is our priority but in Johannesburg we want to play well and work on cutting out defensive errors.”
The next few months is sure to throw up plenty of challenges for the teams. Either qualifying or counting down to London there is no doubt the time spent in the sunshine in Africa has been a worthwhile exercise.Back