The Pan American Games open on 13 July in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the Opening Ceremony set in the legendary Maracana Stadium. The hockey competition starts on 15 July and, ten days later, the men and women Pan American Champions will have earned a berth for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
On the men’s side, Argentina is a clear favorite after their spectacular victory in the recent BDO Champions Challenge in Belgium. Their penalty corner specialist Jorge Lombi found back his efficiency in the nick of time, scoring three goals in the Final, and he will be a threat to all defenses in Rio.
Canada should be their tougher opponent, with a good mix of seasoned veterans (Mike Mahood, Rob Short and Ken Pereira) and young blood. They finished their preparation on a high note with a decisive victory over France in Paris (5-1).
These two teams have met in every Pan American Games Final since 1975 (with 5 wins for Argentina and 3 for Canada), a trend that their opponents will be eager to change, starting with Cuba, third in 2003 and in 1999. The Cubans don’t play much on the international scene outside of official competitions, but always arrive with sterling physical fitness.
Chile is always a strong contender and Trinidad & Tobago will count once again on their mercurial leader Kwan Browne.
On the women’s side, Argentina has won every Pan American title since the introduction of women’s hockey in 1987, and will again be the favorite with their star-studded team lea by the incomparable Luciana Aymar. The USA team has prepared extensively since the beginning of the year and could give Argentina a run for their money.
Behind the two leaders, three teams are very close to each other (Canada, Chile and Cuba) and the final standings will probably be decided by small margins.
It is interesting to note the return to the Pan American Games of the teams from the Netherlands Antilles. A majority of their players have honed their skills in the Dutch League, bringing a different brand of hockey to the Pan American scene, already rich in a variety of styles with the Argentinean, the North American and the Caribbean teams.
For regular updates on the games, check the Pan American Hockey Federation by clicking here.
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