After China won the AtaHolding Champions Challenge women last week, it is now the time for the men in the BDO Champions Challenge in Antwerp/Boom, Belgium. It is the first FIG World Level event for men this year and England, fifth at last years’ BDO World Cup, are clear favorites. The BDO Champions Challenge is scheduled for 23 June until 1 July.
The path to victory will not be easy however, with several of the other contenders in the Boom tournament keen on making a good impression.
India for example are desperate to get back on the road to success after disappointing results in last year's World Cup and the Doha Asian Games, the latter forcing them to battle for a Beijing berth in one of next year's Olympic qualifiers.
It is the first tournament for new coach Joaquim "Jack" Carvalho, himself a member of the Indian Olympic squad in Los Angeles 1984. He picked a squad that does not include popular veterans like Gagan Ajit Singh, Viren Rasquinha, Arjun Halappa or Vikram Pillay. On the other hand, India relishes the return of drag flicker Sandeep Singh who missed out on the BDO World Cup after being accidentally shot.
It is also the first major tournament for Shane MacLeod, new head coach for the Kiwis, who took over after Kevin Towns moved from coaching the men's squad to the New Zealand women. A solid 8th place finishing in Mönchengladbach makes them co-favorites in this tournament with England.
Both favorites have had few changes to their squad since the World Cup. The Black Sticks lost veterans Mitesh Patel, James Nation and Gareth Brooks but send several fresh, virtually uncapped faces on the field, while England have fewest changes to their squad of all teams that played in the World Cup and will compete here in Boom. Only two positions are filled with new names, with young Ashley Jackson replacing Jerome Goudie who ended his national team career, and Ben Marsden returning to take Ali Wilson's place.
Hosts Belgium are also eager to put on a good show, not only for their home crowd but most of all for narrowly missing out so many times in the recent past - a big challenge for the young, inexperienced squad. Long term captain Thierry Renaer has quit the national team as well as penalty corner specialist Jean-Philippe Brule, and it remains to be seen how well they can be replaced.
Japan, like England, achieved an unexpectedly good result at the World Cup, and aim to confirm their new status with a little changed squad that has retained all their veteran players.
Argentina, last but not least, won the 2005 Champions Challenge but had less than satisfying reults in last year's two events, the World Cup and the Champions Trophy, and their line-up makes for a team to watch: on the one hand Sergio Vigil has incorporated more of the young players from the 2005 Junior World Champion squad, on the other he has also brought back veteran midfielder Nandy Zylberberg and legendary drag flicker Jorge Lombi who were both dropped from the squad last year amidst quite a bit of controversy.
Action and passion are thus guaranteed when the BDO Champions Challenge takes off in Belgium on Saturday, in a tournament where there are favorites but everything seems possible.
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