WITH exactly 2 months to go until the start of the FIH Champions Challenge 1 in Johannesburg the official website is now live at http://www.champschallenge.co.za. The participating nations are hosts South Africa, Argentina, Belgium, Canada, India (to be confirmed), Japan, Malaysia and Poland.
With the FIH having taken the prestigious Champions Trophy event away from India and given it to New Zealand, New Zealand, who were initially supposed to be part of the line up, have been promoted to the Champions Trophy as hosts and the FIH has extended an invitation to India to attend the Champions Challenge 1 tournament in Johannesburg. We are still awaiting confirmation that India have accepted this invitation.
So what so we know about the participating teams?
The hosts South Africa have recently been crowned as the African Champions at the African Games competition held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Although this should secure them an automatic place at the Olympic Games in London, the South African Olympic Committee, SASCOC, has placed an additional condition on them to reach the final of the Champions Challenge 1 if they are to go to the Olympics, so they have everything to play for.
Argentina and Canada will be taking part in the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico from October 14 with one of the two teams expected to come away as the Pan American Champions and their place at London secured. Argentina and South Africa had a two match test series last week that was drawn with each team winning a game, though the South Africans lost 14 players to injury or overseas commitments for the second test.
Belgium secured their place at the Olympics by coming 4th at the EuroHockey Nations Championships losing out on the Bronze medal to Olympic hosts England, but knocking 2008 Olympic Silver medalists Spain out of automatic qualification for the 2012 Olympics on the way. Germany and Netherlands took the Gold and Silver medals respectively. Poland took the Silver medal in the second tier EuroHockey Nations Championships II having been beaten by Czech Republic and in doing so securing a place in one of the 3 Olympic Qualifier events to be held next year.
India, Malaysia and Japan have recently been in action in the Asian Champions Trophy that was held in Ordos, China. India beat traditionl arch rival and Asian Games Champions, Pakistan in the finals to take the Gold medal, their first success under new coach Australian Michael Nobbs. Japan and Malaysia played out for the Bronze medal in the tournament with Malaysia coming out on top in that encounter to take the Bronze. Korea, who are taking part in the Champions Trophy in New Zealand came 5th in that competition.
Apart from South Africa, Belgium and either Canada or Argentina all the other nations will be taking part in the Olympic Qualifier tournaments next year to try and secure a place at the Olympics and so this tournament will be giving them invaluable experience for those "winner takes all" competitions.
Champions Challenge I media release