FIH Champions Challenge I - Preview
With less than 24 hours to go before Canada take on Malaysia in the first game, the stage is set for eight countries to battle it out for a place in the elite Champions Trophy.
Argentina, the world’s No 8 and the highest ranked side in the tournament, should be the favourites on paper to win the event and clinch a place at the 2012 Champions Trophy in Australia. But with an array of star-studded squads lining up it would be crazy to write some of the teams off.
The South Americans have the luxury of knowing they have qualified for London 2012, as do Belgium, while the hosts have been left needing to reach the Champions Challenge final to take their place at the London Games.
The route to the final sees each team playing three pool matches with the quarter-final line-up being determined by the final pool placings.
In common with all top competitions there will be no easy matches with eight-time former Olympic champions, India, drawn in the same group as South Africa, Belgium and Poland, the lowest world-ranked side at 19th.
Argentina head the other pool alongside their old Pan-American rivals, Canada, Malaysia and Japan.
The Lombi brothers, Pablo (head coach) and his assistant Jorge are in charge of Argentina’s fortunes. Jorge forged a reputation as one the world’s most feared goal scorers during his long and illustrious career and will no doubt pass on invaluable information to his compatriots.
Belgium, too, boast a “dream team” with former Australia World Cup winner Colin Batch as head coach and Jeroen Delmee, the former Netherlands captain, his number two. Delmee was the first Dutchman to make 400 international appearances and has two Olympic gold medals and a silver in his locker. No wonder Belgium has claimed a few notable scalps recently.
Ken Pereira from Canada is the most capped player in the tournament with an incredible 336, while his team-mate Rob Short is the oldest, aged 39. The pair has been the nucleus of their squad for many years and have served their country with distinction.
Two 18-year-old players share the honour of being the youngest taking part in the prestigious tournament. They are Muhammed Firhan Ashari from Malaysia and the Canadian forward Gabriel Ho-Garcia.
And to crown it all, the sun is shining!