Monday sees the start of the first ever FIH Men’s Champions Challenge II tournament, with all the action taking place in the beautiful Irish capital city of Dublin. The National Hockey Stadium at University College Dublin (UCD) will no doubt prove to be a superb venue for a week of top class hockey.
From 6 to 12 July 2009, eight teams will battle it out in a bid to be crowned as tournament champions, with success guaranteeing a place in the 2011 Champions Challenge I event. The eight teams have been split into two pools of four, with Japan (11th in the World Rankings), Ireland (18th), Poland (20th) and Chile (27th) playing in Pool A, while Pool B consists of Malaysia (15th), France (17th), Austria (22nd) and Russia (25th).
The teams will all be involved in Pool match action on Monday 6, Tuesday 7 and Thursday 9 July, with Classification matches taking place on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 July.
Host nation Ireland will have a passionate crowd supporting them all the way as the 18th best team in the world try to upset the odds against tournament favourites Japan. Ireland coach Paul Revington has selected a squad with average age of 24 and 56 caps, the most experienced of these coming in the form of 29 year old striker Stephen Butler who has 143 caps and 73 goals. Revington is a man very much looking forward to the tournament and thinks that it will be a good way to mark the progression that his team has made.
“The creation of this level of FIH event is a great incentive for our Irish team to perform well and improve our world ranking”, said Revington. “The quality of the teams attending this event will also provide our team with a great test of how well we have progressed since January as individuals and as a team collectively.”
Ireland and Japan are expected to be the two front-runners in Pool A, although Poland – captained by Tomasz Dutkiewicz, their impassioned penalty corner flicking defender – are also a side well worth looking out for. Many of their players are also experts at the indoor game, and will be showing their superb close stick skills in the outdoor form of the game. Chile are another team capable of causing an upset, with 137 game veteran Felipe Montegu their most experienced and arguably their most talented player.
According to the World Rankings, Malaysia and France are the two teams likely to reach the 1-4 Play-Off matches from Pool B, but with the unpredictable Austria and Russia also in the mix it is unlikely that it is unlikely that they will have it all their own way. Malaysia’s team features seasoned internationals such as Boon Huat Chua and Kumar Subramaniam, but also includes eight players under the age of 23, two of which are teenagers.
Like Malaysia, France balance experience with youth, with 31-year-old Frederik Soyez of Lille MHC being their most capped player. 21-year-old Christoph Amend – who has been playing his hockey for Euro Hockey League Finalists UHC Hamburg in recent times – is one of three youngsters brought in to cover for the injured Julien Boyer, Tom Genestet and Bastien Dierkens.
“We have selected a balanced side for the tournament”, said France Coach Scott Goodheart. We are still testing combinations of players, and with two or three players unavailable through injury, it is a good opportunity for all 18 to push for selection for the European Cup in August. Having said that, I have high expectations of this group at this tournament, and we will be working hard to find good form from the opening whistle.”
The Austrian team has four players in their line-up with over 100 caps, while veterans Robert Buchta and Peter Proksch each have over 150 international appearances. Meanwhile, Russia will be lead by Alexandre Platonov, the 34-year-old overseeing a talented group of twenty-somethings, not including 36-year-old goalkeeper Igor Dobizhin. Despite both teams having lower World Rankings than their Pool opponents, they will be extremely tough opponents and have the ability to surprise.
The opening match of the tournament sees Malaysia take on Austria in Pool B, with the action beginning at 13:00. The day’s second match will also be a Pool B clash, as France aim to get their tournament off to a flying start by defeating Russia at 15:15. The first of the Pool A matches takes place at 17:30, as Japan and Poland go head-to-head, before host nation Ireland play their first match against Chile at 19:45.
The Champions Challenge II is a new FIH World Level event introduced to the calendar this year, featuring the best teams that did not qualify for the Champions Trophy or the Champions Challenge I. The tournament will be held every two years, with the winner of this year’s event securing a place in the 2011 Champions Challenge I
The Women’s Champions Challenge II took place last month in the Russian city of Kazan, and featured Russia, India, Ireland, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine, Belarus and Canada. After five days of intense action, India became the first ever winners of the tournament thanks to a 6-3 victory over Belgium.