The Hero Honda FIH World Cup 2010 start on Sunday in the superbly renovated Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium in Delhi, with the top twelve teams in the world eager to dethrone Germany, winner of the last two World Cups.
Reigning World and Olympic champions Germany go into the competition with a number of big name players missing from their line-up, but do not be fooled into thinking that they are not contenders for the title. Gold medal winning captain Timo WESS missed Novemberâ€™s Champions Trophy in Melbourne, as did Christopher and Philip ZELLER â€“ arguably the two most famous siblings in hockey. However, the youthful line-up that participated in the Champions Trophy proved that they had the ability to compete with the best, securing a remarkable second place finish and being the only team to defeat host nation and tournament winners Australia. 18-year-old UHC Hamburg striker Florian FUCHS started the Champions Trophy without a senior international cap to his name, but finished the competition having scored five times to mark himself as one of hockeyâ€™s brightest young talents. Fuchs is joined in the squad by his Junior World Cup-winning team mate Martin HĂ„NER, a drag-flicking defender who has just been named the 2009 Player of the Year in Germany. These exceptional youngsters are complemented by the experience and class of Olympic Gold Medallists such as Moritz FĂśRSTE, Philip WITTE, Max MĂśLLER, Jan-Marco MONTAG and Mattias WITTHAUS. The combination of exciting youth and world class experience makes this Germany team a force to be reckoned with.
Like Germany, Australia have a new look team to the one that claimed Olympic Bronze at Beijing 2008, but are already proving that under the guidance of legendary coach Ric CHARLESWORTH they are arguably the team to beat at the World Cup. Their recent success at the Champions Trophy gave Charlesworth what could be the first of many World Level titles, and a triumph in New Delhi would give Australia their first World Cup trophy since Willesden 1986, where Charlesworth was himself a player. Current WorldHockey Player of the Year Jamie DWYER â€“ a man who has won that particular award on three separate occasions â€“ is still very much the Kookaburrasâ€™ star man, but he is far from being the only weapon in Australiaâ€™s armoury. Deadly goal-scorer Grant SCHUBERT is another man at the top of his game, and is currently reproducing the kind of form which saw him named WorldHockey Young Player of the Year in 2003. In terms of the youngsters on show, Eddie OCKENDEN is the most well known, having himself been named World Hockey Young Player of the Year in 2008. However, striker Des ABBOTT and defender Matthew SWANN were both extremely impressive throughout the Champions Trophy and could make a big impact in the World Cup.
Since the departure of successful coach Maurits HENDRIKS shortly after guiding his team to an Olympic Silver medal in 2008, Spain have been struggling to find form. A poor display in the EuroHockey Nations Championship saw the team finish in fourth place, having been crushed 6-1 in the Bronze Medal match by The Netherlands. The Champions Trophy was also extremely difficult, with the side failing to win a match in the Round-Robin phase and even suffering a humiliating 10-3 defeat at the hands of Australia, a team that they had defeated to reach the Olympic final just 15 months earlier. However, they ended the tournament on a high thanks to a deserved 5-3 victory over England, and have been growing in confidence ever since. Coach Dani MARTIN has been unable to select powerful striker Santi FREIXA who has been suffering with a long term leg injury, but this side is still blessed with incredible players such as Edi TUBAU, Xavi RIBAS, Sergi ENRIQUE and Ramon ALEGRE. As vital as these players are, there is no-one more important to Spain as Pol AMAT, the 2008 WorldHockey Player of the Year. Many have already written off their chances of success in India, but Amat and his talented team mates will be aiming to prove their doubters wrong.
The Netherlands are another team that come to this tournament with a number of new faces, but there are still some legends amongst them. Defender Taeke TAEKEMA is still arguably the worldâ€™s most dangerous penalty corner flicker, while Ronald BROUWER, Jeroen HERTZBERGER and Robert van der HORST are all players that are up there with the very best in the world game. The biggest star of them all is always likely to be Teun de NOOIJER, the brilliant attacker who is a three time winner of the WorldHockey Player of the Year Award. At 33, De Nooijer is clearly the oldest member of the team, but is as important to his side as ever. A Bronze medal on home soil in the EuroHockey Nations Championships came as a big disappointment, while their performances in the Champions Trophy were hit and miss. Good wins against Spain, England and Germany were let down by two defeats against Korea and a crushing 7-2 thrashing by Australia. Coach Michel van den HEUVEL has been working hard to give his team the best possible chances of success in the World Cup, knowing that he has a squad of players capable of beating anyone on their day.
Korea, ranked 5th, have often been described as an unpredictable team, but their recent form has been both consistent and extremely impressive. A third place finish in Melbourne was their first Champions Trophy medal in nine years, defeating World and Olympic champions Germany as well as recording two victories over The Netherlands. Team captain SEO Jong-Ho is Koreaâ€™s inspirational driving force and undoubtedly one of the most gifted strikers in world hockey. However, he is far from being a one man team, with Korea boasting high quality players covering every position on the field. Based on their Champions Trophy Bronze, it would seem that a medal at the World Cup is certainly achievable.
Following their stunning and unexpected triumph in the EuroHockey Nations Championship, England is a team that is definitely on the up. Coach Jason LEE has created a fantastically hard-working unit that is starting to play hockey with genuine flair. A 6th place finish at the Champions Trophy may have been a set back to the squad, but you can be certain that this team will have the belief that they can achieve great things in New Delhi. In terms of players, Richard MANTELL, Ashley JACKSON and team captain Barry MIDDLETON are all world class individuals. Mantell is a defensive powerhouse with a ferocious slap hit and a potent penalty corner drag-flick, while Jacksonâ€™s silky skills have rightly earned him the title of 2009 WorldHockey Young Player of the Year thanks to brilliant performances both for England and Dutch club HGC. Jacksonâ€™s HGC club-mate Barry Middleton is a deceptive and skilful midfielder who regularly scores goals, and it is he who will be hoping to guide his side to a podium finish.
Pakistan are the most decorated team in World Cup history, but have slid away from the international podiums lately. They produced a lacklustre performance in Beijing, finishing only 8th, and lost the final of the recent Asia Cup to Korea. At the World Cup Qualifier in Lille, they suffered when opponents managed to raise the tempo of play (especially Japan in the final) and were fortunate to benefit from Sohail ABBASâ€™ nine penalty-corner goals to stay ahead of the competition. At the recent Champions Challenge in Salta, they just squeezed past Canada but lost to Argentina and New Zealand. They can rely on the speed and technical skills of their forwards (Rehan BUTT, Shakeel ABBASSI) and on the experience of their midfield and defense (Waseem AHMED, Zeeshan ASHRAF, Salman AKBAR in goal), but their most potent weapon is of course the lethal flick of Sohail ABBAS on penalty-corners.
New Zealand is arriving in fine form at this World Cup. They somewhat struggled to win the World Cup Qualifier at home in Invercargill over a surprising Malaysian team, having to rely on two late penalty corners by Andrew HAYWARD to make the difference. At the Champions Challenge in Salta, they seemed to improve from game to game, finishing with two strong shows against Argentina then Pakistan in the final. The Black Sticks will miss the SHAW brothers (Hayden and Bradley) from their Qualifier squad but they have talents in all the lines. Kyle PONTIFEX was dominant in goal in Salta, Ryan ARCHIBALD is a workhorse in midfield, Phillip BURROWS is a permanent danger in attack, and Andrew HAYWARD is quickly making a name for himself as a dangerous drag flicker.
Canada have been on an upwards progression in the last few years. After winning the 2007 Pan American Games and qualifying for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, they won the 2009 Pan American Cup to qualify for the World Cup in Delhi. They had nevertheless inconsistent results lately, losing a 7-Match Test Series at home against India and finishing poorly at the Champions Challenge in Salta, despite a gusty win against continental rivals Argentina in front of their home crowd. The Canadian squad has developed around a well balanced mix of young and seasoned players, lead by veterans Rob SHORT and Ken PEREIRA, both playing for Dutch club HGC and both reaching their 300th international Caps in Delhi. The Canadian defence is anchored by Paul WETTLAUFER, another veteran of two Olympic Games, and Scott TUPPER, who currently plays in the German league.
Under their Spanish Coach Jose BRASA, India have worked hard to put up a good show in â€śtheirâ€ť World Cup at home. They did well at the Champions Challenge in Salta, tying with future winner New Zealand and only losing one game, albeit heavily (3-6) to arch-rivals Pakistan in semi-final. They can count on the solid defense of Sardar SINGH (named Player of the Tournament in Salta), on the strong play of their captain Rajpal SINGH in midfield and on a number of forwards with good scoring abilities such as Prabhjot SINGH, Dhananjay MAHADIK or Shivendra SINGH. They will also welcome the return of Sandeep SINGH, boldly presented as the best drag flicker in the world by Coach Brasa.
Despite regularly qualifying for international events through their continental competitions, South Africa often struggle on the world stage. In Beijing, they collected the wooden spoon, losing all their matches, including a sobering 0-10 to Australia and an overtime loss to China for the 11th-12th positions. They went to the Champions Challenge in Salta with a renewed squad and did very well, improving from game to game under the stewardship of Captain Austin SMITH to finish fifth, ahead of higher ranked teams China, Belgium and Canada.
Although entering as the lowest ranked team in the competition, Argentina are on a high after their spectacular win in the World Cup Qualifier at home in Quilmes that put an end to a string of losses in critical matches (2007 Pan American Games and 2009 Pan American Cup against Canada, 2008 Olympic Qualifier against new Zealand). Under the new leadership of Coach Pablo LOMBI, they have built a talented side with a blend of experience and youth. They opted to rest some of their key players in the Champions Challenge in Salta, but will be at full strength in Delhi, with the return of Mario ALMADA (who scored the winning goal in Quilmes), Matias VILA, Fernando ZYLBERBERG and Matias PAREDES. They will also to count on the excellent recent form of Pedro IBARRA, top goal-scorer at the Qualifier in Quilmes with 9 goals (6 penalty-corners and 3 penalty-strokes) and in Salta with 8 penalty-corners.
The competition opens on Sunday in Delhi. South Africa and Spain will play first, then the crowd will be treated to two classical hockey rivalries: Australia will face England, then Pakistan and India will lock horns in an highly anticipated and emotionally charged encounter that had the media buzzing for days.
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