The 3rd Women’s Pan American Cup will start on Saturday 7 February in Hamilton, Bermuda. At stake is not only the continental crown but also a qualification for the 2010 World Cup in Argentina for the winner, as well as invitations to one of the three World Cup Qualifiers.
Originally planned for twelve teams, the competition dwindled down to only eight after some countries had to withdraw because of the current financial crisis which has had an impact on their sport associations.
Currently 2nd in the FIH World Rankings, Argentina is once again the logical favourite. Las Leonas have so far won all the continental competitions in the Americas, whether Pan American Games or Pan American Cups, and will want to maintain their winning streak on the way to the World Cup they will play at home in September 2010.
They will however play without some of their stalwarts of recent years, such as five time WorldHockey Player of the Year Luciana Aymar, emblematic Captain Magdalena Aicega, prolific striker Soledad Garcia, Mercedes Margalot, Maria de la Paz Hernandez, etc… Only 5 of the Argentinean players who stood on the podium in Beijing will make the trip to Bermuda. Argentina will now rely on young players such as Carla Rebecchi and Rosario Luchetti to step up to the plate and lead their relatively inexperienced teammates.
So could this be the year for the USA to dethrone their perennial rivals? Since Beijing, the team led by Lee Bodimeade has lost charismatic leader Kate Barber but kept the core of its Olympians, lead by new captain Carrie Lingo, goalkeeper Amy Tran, Keli Smith, Tiffany Snow and Dina Rizzo.
The Americans have just finished a five-game series against the Netherlands in California. They hope to take some momentum to Bermuda and emulate their junior team who first broke the Argentinean continental stranglehold when they won the Pan American Junior Championship a few months ago in Mexico.
Chile narrowly lost the Bronze Medal at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and will want to avenge what they considered an injustice (the Netherlands Antilles exploited a loophole in the eligibility rule to call upon a number of players from the Netherlands, non-resident in the Antilles) by stepping on the podium in Bermuda. The Chilean Hockey Federation is running very strong national team programs and the squad sent to this competition is well balanced, with the experience of Paula Infante, Michelle Wilson and María Jose Fernandez, complemented by the enthusiasm of some junior players, including Cristine Fingerhuth and Claudia Schuler, respectively Best Player and Best Goalkeeper at the recent Pan Am Junior Championship.
Based on their World Rankings (20th), Canada could also be a contender for the podium. The team is now coached by Louis Mendonca, who led the Canadian men to victory at the 2007 Pan American Games, but the group is at the beginning of a rebuilding phase, with an average age of 22 and very little international experience, even at the junior level after Field Hockey Canada decided to bypass the Pan American Junior Championship.
The remaining four teams in the competition have not been involved in senior international competitions outside of the Caribbean in the recent past, but three of them (Mexico, Trinidad & Tobago and Bermuda) competed at the junior level and will probably try and capitalize on their youth. Mexico leads this pack, with 8 players having played in the Pan Am Junior Championship (where they finished an impressive 4th) and 4 having won a Bronze Medal at the recent Indoor Pan American Cup in Argentina.
For more information, results, reports and pictures, check the Pan American Hockey Federation website by clicking here.
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