This article first appeared in Issue 22 of WorldHockey Online magazine.
Mark Grant, a specialist hockey writer in England, previews the men’s Rabo Hockey Junior World Cup.
When it comes to staging tournaments, no-one does it quite like the Dutch. Everything is in place to ensure the Rabo Hockey Junior World Cup in Rotterdam is a memorable one - both on and off the pitc.
While the main focus will be on the players who are the future of international hockey for years to come, the tournament organisers have gone out of their way to provide an extravaganza which should mean visitors will not go home disappointed.
World-class facilities are the norm in the Netherlands, and Rotterdam is no exception with seven pitches on site, four of which are water based, and permanent seating for 3,500 people.
Throw in free admission - guaranteed to boost attendances - and special events in 'The Zone' for four to 18 year-olds, plus international under 16 matches, and the stage is set for 12 days of top entertainment.
And that is exactly what organisers expect to provide, especially as the tournament ties in nicely with the southern port city's celebrations as European Capital of Sports for 2005.
'At lot of main events are in Rotterdam this year. It was one of the reasons to make our choice because the city supports this kind of event,' said Joost Vettorato, the Dutch Hockey Board events manager.
'We want to encourage as many people to come as possible, especially the youth of Rotterdam. I think the crowds will be very enthusiastic.
'And I think a lot of travellers will come. I have heard of a group from Australia coming - 40 people in one group - and with others coming from different countries it will be nice to make it a real international event so it is special for the participants. That way it will not be a Dutch event but one of international character.'
Vettorato explained that the key to their previous successes in hosting tournaments, and the strength of domestic Dutch hockey, was down to their approach of making events social occasions with plenty to do.
'That is something we do with all our events. It always has to be something like a hockey party in the Netherlands,' he said.
'In Holland to go to a tournament it is entertainment for a day so for the whole day you can go to the hockey club and take your stick and some food and have a nice day with your family and that is the most important thing.
'I think it is one of our secrets. We are also helped by the structure of our clubs. We have 309 hockey clubs and they are all mainly based around families.'
Rotterdam hosted the 2001 Men's Champions Trophy at very short notice after the September 11 terrorist attacks in America resulted in the competition being withdrawn from Pakistan and it was no surprise the FIH turned to the Netherlands to help them out.
'That was a special event because we organised that one in five weeks,' added Vettorato.
'The logistics of a Junior World Cup are a bigger challenge because there are 16 teams who will play at this tournament. We organised the European Championships in Utrecht in 1998 so we are experienced but it is always a big test to service all the players and officials.'
Organisers have even thought of the international visitors who may be interested in seeing more of Rotterdam by providing excursions into the city, which boasts the third-largest port in the world and has the famous 185m Euromast, which really brave souls can abseil down should they so wish.
The action on the pitch promises to be no less interesting, with the future stars of the game battling it for honours in the 16-team tournament, which has taken on a new format this year.
Three teams will all progress from four pools of four and carry through any points won against their fellow qualifiers into two pools of six, where each nation will play sides they did not face in the opening phase. The top two from each group will then go through to the semi-finals as the tournament takes on a traditional form.
These new regulations mean some of the bigger nations will be involved for longer as, in previous years, only the top two progressed from four pools of four.
The changes have been welcomed by England Under-21 manager Pete Nicholson, whose side finished just outside the medals in fourth in Hobart in 2001 and are likely to be one of the nations to benefit this time around having been drawn alongside top seeds Spain and Korea.
'I quite like the format as they have revised it slightly from last time. Before it was four pools of four with the top two teams getting through,' he said.
'If that was the way this time then our game against Korea could be to go forward into the top eight or having to play-off for ninth place at best. This format gives you a bit more security to go through to the second phase.
'Every game is going to be really important but it does make it a bit difficult for planning and scouting the other teams as you don't know who you will be playing in the second phase until almost the last game.
'We play Korea at 5pm on the Saturday night and our next game is the following day but you don't get to know who it is going to be or at what time.
'We look like we would move into a group with India and Holland and that would be tough but that is what you expect at World Cup level.'
Spain start as top seeds after their success at the European Championships last year but there will be a strong challenge from fellow continental rivals Germany - winners four successive times from 1982 to 1993 - and Netherlands, defending champions India, Pakistan and Australia.
Pakistan are the form team heading into the event having already won a four-nation tournament in Lahore and a six-nation competition in Kuala Lumpur this year.
In penalty corner specialist Imran Wasi, they have a defender with the potential to follow in the footsteps of set-piece legend and world record goal scorer Sohail Abbas. However there is much more to the squad than just Wasi. A dozen juniors were all selected to gain experience with the senior squad at the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia.
India also have a drag-flicker to fear in Sandeep Singh and coach Harendra Singh admitted the youngster's role would be crucial in the defence of their title.
'We can score goals if we can convert penalty corners so scoring and getting maximum penalty corners is a priority to be able to maximum pressure on the opposition,' he said.
Within the Australian ranks is Athens gold medallist Mark Knowles, whose experience will be vital for the 1997 JWC winners when it comes to the important matches in Rotterdam.
Hosts Netherlands also have the potential to score a lot of goals, especially roared on by vocal home fans, but they are less reliant on the set-piece.
Amsterdam's Roderik Huber scored nine goals in the Hoofdklasse but was the star forward at the recent European Club Championships his side hosted, scoring seven times in four matches as Amsterdam won the title for the first time in their history.
Nick Meijer netted 11 goals during Bloemendaal's domestic championship-winning season with Oranje Zwart's Teun Rohof is also one to watch in the circle.
The competition promises to be keenly-fought with European sides expected to dominate, but the diplomatic Vettorato just wants everyone to enjoy themselves.
'I hope our boys will play very well but I also expect something from defending champions India. Australia will have a good team, Germany always have good youngsters and Spain are very good I think,' he said.
'I hope we will have a good competition and I think we will.'
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