(BY FIH) This Sunday sees the start of one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the 2010 hockey calendar, as the Argentine city of Rosario plays host to the BDO FIH World Cup for women. Huge crowds are expected to fill the stadium as the home fans hope to cheer “Las Leonas” to victory, but Argentina face stiff opposition from the world’s finest international hockey teams who are all vying for their right to lift the one of the most sought after trophies in the sport.
Over the next two weeks, twelve teams will compete for the title, each of which has earned the right to compete in this competition based on their performances over the last two years. The tournament will be split into two pools of six, with Pool A featuring Australia, Germany, India, Japan, The Netherlands and New Zealand, while Argentina, China, England, Korea, Spain and South Africa will do battle in Pool B before the Semi Final and Classification matches begin midway through the second week.
Olympic Champions The NETHERLANDS are the world’s number one ranked team and will be many people’s favourite to defend the title that they successfully won in Madrid four years ago. However, a second place finish behind Argentina at the recent Samsung Champions Trophy in Nottingham could suggest that Las Leonas currently have the upper hand on the illustrious Dutch women. Despite this, The Netherlands – lead by the experienced Janneke Schopman – should certainly not be written off. Their incredibly strong squad contains many current superstars of the world game, including penalty corner queen Maartje Paumen and midfielder Naomi van As, who currently holds the WorldHockey Player of the Year title with Argentine legend Luciana Aymar.
Host nation ARGENTINA (World Ranking: 2) are a team presently brimming with confidence. Their recent triumph in the Champions Trophy – their third CT title in succession – was achieved despite only picking up one point from their first two matches. Like the Netherlands, Argentina are a team blessed with outstanding individual talent, with the likes of Carla Rebecchi, Marine Russo and Claudia Burkart all complementing the brilliant midfield play of Luciana Aymar. The penalty corner skills of defender Noel Barrionuevo ensures that there is plenty of firepower in an Argentina team that is desperate to win the World Cup on home soil.
Olympic Silver medallists CHINA are currently third in the World Rankings, but were well below their best at the Champions Trophy in Nottingham where they could only manage a sixth place finish. Despite this poor showing, coach Kim Sang Ryul will have restored the belief that they are more than capable of being amongst the medals in Rosario. Team captain Fu Baorong is one of the most feared strikers in world hockey, whilst defender Ma Yibo is capable of winning matches with her ferocious penalty corner drag flicks.
GERMANY (World Ranking: 4) are currently a very unpredictable side. They could only manage a fourth place finish in the recent Champions Trophy where they were beaten to the Bronze medal by host nation England, but since then the team has welcomed back inspirational midfielder Fanny Rinne following injury. Team captain Tina Bachmann has a habit of scoring important goals for her side, as does evergreen striker Natascha Keller, 33, who has now represented her nation over 360 times.
The mighty Hockeyroos of Australia may be as low as 5th in the current World Rankings, but Frank Murray’s side are certainly capable of staking a real claim for the title. However, it has been 12 years since their last win, which arrived in 1998 inspired by the brilliance of Alyson Annan and Katrina Powell. Powell is now part of Murray’s coaching staff at this World Cup, and will be on hand to offer her vast knowledge the current generation. Madonna Blyth, Kim Walker and Nicole Arrold are the most experienced players in a squad that showed signs of great improvement in a recent 3-2 defeat against Argentina.
ENGLAND (World Ranking: 6) are one of the fastest improving teams in the world at present, with Danny Kerry’s young squad growing in confidence every time they step foot on a hockey field. Their performances at the Samsung Champions Trophy in Nottingham were outstanding, achieving their best ever finish by defeating Germany in the Bronze medal play-off match. Although the side has experienced players in Helen Richardson, captain Kate Walsh and outstanding goalkeeper Beth Storry, it is the new generation that are beginning to grab the headlines. Charlotte Craddock and Ashleigh Ball are just two of many exciting young players to break into the England squad in recent years. Undoubtedly though, the real star is defensive powerhouse Crista Cullen, whose extraordinary levels of fitness and commitment give England a steely edge that could see them as serious challengers for a medal.
With no less than seven players under the age of 21, New Zealand (World Ranking: 7) is another team packed with exciting young talent that is developing at a terrific rate. The side won over a host of new fans at the Champions Trophy in Nottingham thanks to the fluid, attacking style of hockey introduced by coach Mark Hager, a two time former Olympian with Australia. A fifth place finish in the tournament was a fine achievement for the Black Sticks, who will be hoping to do even better in Rosario. Defender Clarissa Eshuis is extremely dangerous from penalty corner situations, while Emily Naylor runs the show from midfield.
SPAIN (World Ranking: 8) features a good mix of experience and youth. Long time servants Silvia Munoz and Nuria Camon have amassed nearly 400 caps between them, but they are joined in the squad by three players with a combined total of less than 15 – Berta Bonastre, Carlota Petchame and Empar Gil. Coach Pablo Usoz will be hoping that his team will be able to improve on the fourth place finish that the team achieved at Madrid 2006 and get amongst the medals in Rosario.
JAPAN (World Ranking: 9) also achieved an extremely respectable finish at the 2006 World Cup in Madrid, ending the tournament in 5th place. The team come to Rosario with three uncapped players in Yuri Nagai, Akai Mitsuhashi and Shiho Otsuka, as well as nine other players with less than thirty caps to their individual names. However, plenty of experience comes from 39-year-old Akemi Kato, who has made over 350 international appearances for her country, while the quality of Kaori Chiba and Miyumi Ono will ensure that Japan are capable of getting good results in this tournament.
KOREA (World Ranking: 11) are another team that certainly have age on their side, announcing a squad that does not contain one player over the age of 29. In terms of international experience, Park Seon Mi, Lee Seon Ok (C) and Park Mi Hyun are all players that have achieved over 100 caps. It has been 20 years since Korea claimed their one and only medal in a World Cup - a Bronze at Sydney in 1990. Can this group of players repeat that success in Rosario?
SOUTH AFRICA (World Ranking: 12) team for the World Cup welcomes back one of the true legends of the game, with Pietie Coetzee coming out of retirement for the tournament. Coetzee, now 31, was for a long time the superstar of South African hockey, and her return will provide a huge boost to the team captained by Marsha Marescia. The squad also features debutante Sulette Damons, who has been selected by coach Giles Bonnet at the tender age of 20.
INDIA may be the lowest ranked team in the tournament (13), but over the years they have proven that they can rise to the big occasion. As well as the experienced and talented Surindar Kaur (C), Saba Anjum and Subhadra Pradhan, India possess a number of exciting youngsters including 15-year-old Rani Rampal, who has already collected over 45 senior international caps in her fledgling career.