With 88 days to go until the Olympic Hockey tournament starts, the blue pitch at the Riverbank Arena got its first taste of the spotlight today as the Visa International Invitational Tournament kicked off. The five day event featuring 4 of the best men's and 4 of the best women's teams in the world is not only a full dress rehearsal for hockey's top showcase, but also a great opportunity for teams to get a feel for the Olympic pitch and measure themselves against top opposition with less than 3 months left to prepare.
The day started with the Argentinean women taking on China in a lop-sided encounter that had the world number 2 dominate one of the two Asian participants in the event from start to finish. Despite balanced ball possession, the Leonas were the far more aggressive and efficient side, as the statistics impressively underline: Argentina won 15 shots on goal from 23 circle penetrations, while China had a mere 4 shots after entering their opponents' circle 8 times.
Daniela Sruoga, Carla Rebecchi and Silvina d'Elia scored for the Southamericans in an easy win that is a promising indicator for Carlos Retegui's team which is missing a number of its usual drivers as 7 time FIH Player of the Year Luciana Aymar is being rested, penalty corner ace Noel Barrionuevo and defense specialist Rosario Luchetti are recovering from injuries and veteran goalkeeper Belen Succi has recently announced her withdrawal from the Olympic squad due to pregnancy.
In the women's other match of the day, Great Britain came out on top of a closely contested game with a gritty performance as Alex Danson celebrated her 50th GB cap with the 70 minutes' only goal late in the second half. Britain's Crista Cullen wittily caught the essence of the encounter in one sentence at the post-match press conference saying "We showed some British character today to grind out a win - it doesn't always have to be pretty hockey, but winning hockey".
The programme continued with the men's first appearance as the Indian men challenged world number 1 Australia. A solid performance by the Kookaburras was enough against a tentative Indian team who played their first ever competitive game on a blue pitch today. A first half goal by Russell Ford, a second half goal by Matt Gohdes and a late penalty stroke conversion by Luke Doerner established a 3-0 final score line that could well have been much clearer considering the Australians' superiority today.
Finally, in the last encounter of the day, Great Britain took on Germany. After a fast paced but goalless first half, Germany displayed their characteristic maximum efficiency at the start of the second half, as Florian Fuchs scored with only seconds on the clock after Great Britain's late return for the restart left them scrambling when Germany attacked off the starting whistle.
Christopher Zeller later converted a penalty corner and Moritz Fürste a penalty stroke before the British were first able to get one of theirs on the score sheet when Ashley Jackson made good use of another penalty stroke, awarded to the home team this time. After the match, British Head Coach Jason Lee commented, "The result today is a little disappointing, particularly one of the goals, but there is a lot to be optimistic about. I think that the performances of both teams will be better in the summer.”
Tomorrow, the tournament continues with the Argentinean women meeting Korea, and China clashing with the Great Britain women. On the men's side, Germany face Australia and Great Britain take on India.
Argentina - China 3:0 (3:0)
Great Britain - Korea 1:0 (1:0)
Australia - India 3:0 (3:0)
Great Britain - Germany 1:3 (0:0)
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