This Saturday, the Argentina Men’s Hockey Champions Challenge 1 tournament gets underway in the city of Quilmes, 17 kilometres south of capital city Buenos Aires. The competition – which features Korea (World Ranking 7), Argentina (10), South Africa (12), Malaysia (13), Canada (14), Ireland (15), Japan (16) and Poland (19) – will give the competing teams vital World Ranking points, with the winner of the event gaining automatic qualification for the next edition of the men’s Champions Trophy.
Three of the eight teams in a very competitive field were present at the London 2012 Olympic Games – Korea, Argentina and South Africa. Korea secured an eighth place finish in London, with Argentina and South Africa claiming 10th and 11th respectively.
The field has been split into two preliminary round groups, each of which consists of four teams. In Group A is highest-ranked Korea, a team which currently holds down the seventh spot in the FIH World Ranking. They are joined by Malaysia, Canada and Poland. Group B will feature hosts Argentina as the top-seeded team, ranked 10th in the FIH World Ranking. Challenging Argentina in the group will be South Africa, Ireland and Japan.
All eight teams will move onto a quarterfinal game with the first place finishers taking on the last place finishers from the other groups and the second and third place teams playing in a similar cross-over. From there, the winners will move onto the semi-finals and medal games, while the losers will play for placement.
Here is a closer look at the teams that will compete in the tournament.
Korea (WR: 7) enter the competition with a talented group containing ten members of the team that claimed an eighth place finish at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Six players in the squad have over 100 caps to their name, three of which have surpassed the 200 mark: You Hyo Sik (224), Jang Jong Hyun (202) and brilliant striker Seo Jong Ho (290). Despite being 32 years of age, Seo is still very much a talismanic figure for Korea and will undoubtedly be a thorn in the side of most defences here in Quilmes.
Lead by new coach Paul Revington, Malaysia (WR: 13) come into the Champions Challenge 1 determined to make an impact. The South African – who recently took the post after a very successful three and a half year stint with fellow CC1 competitors Ireland – has selected a squad packed with international experience in a bid to capture the title in Quilmes. Defender Mohd Amin Rahim (32 years, 277 caps) is joined by striker Chua Boon Huat (32 years, 306 caps), Roslan Jamaluddin (34 years, 174 caps) and Azlan Misron (29 years, 277 caps). However, there is a sprinkling of exciting young talent in the group, with teenagers Mohn Fitri Saari (14 caps) and debutant Faiz Helmi Jali also gaining selection.
Canada (WR14) have selected no fewer than five uncapped players for the tournament, with Brandon Barber, Paul Wharton, Spencer Curran and twin brothers Stephen and Matthew Bissett gaining selection. Canadian coach Anthony Farry is clearly building for the future, although the inclusion of Mark Pearson (122 caps), Sukhwinder Singh (133 caps), David Jameson (176 caps) and team captain Scott Tupper (155 caps) ensures that there are some experienced heads to guide a youthful, talented and extremely fit group forward.
2011 World indoor silver medallists Poland (WR19) may be coming into this tournament as the lowest ranked team, but their talented squad must not be under-estimated. Team captain Dariusz Rachwalski is one of the most skilful and creative players in the game, while the experience of Miroslaw Juszczak (173 caps), Tomasz Gorny (108 caps) and outstanding goalkeeper Arkadiusz Matuszak (97 caps) ensures that they are certainly not here just to make up the numbers. Poland coach Karol Sniezek has named 14 players under the age of 25 including two 20 year olds who will make their international debuts at the tournament – Adrian Krokosz and Mateusz Stotko.
Home favourites Argentina (WR:10) have selected an impressive squad for the Champions Challenge, with no fewer than 12 members being part of the side that competed at London 2012. Defender Pedro Ibarra, midfield star Lucas Rossi and goalkeeper Juan Manuel Vivaldi as well as attacking siblings Matias, Rodrigo and Lucas Vila have all been named, but Olympians Lucas Cammareri, Ignacio Bergner, Matias Paredes and Santiago Montelli have all been overlooked in favour of other players. One of the new faces is striker Guillermo “Willy” Schickendantz, who will make his international debut at the age of 33 after many years of plying his trade with Europe’s top club teams. Argentina coach Franco Nicola has set his sights firmly on winning the competition, a target which this team is more than capable of hitting.
Like Argentina, South Africa (WR: 12) were also in action at the Summer Games in London, finishing just one place behind their Pool B rivals in 11th. RSA coach Gregg Clark has openly stated his desire to look at new players at the start of the new Olympic cycle, and his selection for the Champions Challenge has certainly allowed him to do so. Clark has named four players from the South Africa U-21 team that won the last month's Africa Qualifier for the Junior World Cup, with Matthew Guide-Brown, Grant Glutz, Robin Jones and Ignatius Malgraff all getting the nod. The team will be captained by classy midfielder Austin Smith, who is the only player in the squad to have played over 100 games for his country, while Jonathan Robinson, Llloyd Madsen, Tim Drummond, Lloyd Norris-Jones, Rhett Halkett and Taine Painton were all playing members of the London 2012 team.
Ireland (WR: 15) have been rapidly improving in recent years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of former coach Paul Revington, who helped the team move from 18th to 15th in the world rankings and guided the team to success at the Champions Challenge 2 in Lille last year. The team is now coached by Andrew Meredith, the Australian who earned his stripes as an integral part of the Germany men’s set up that won the last two Olympic Gold medals. Meredith will be aiming to push this team onto the next level, and with no less than 11 of his selection competing regularly in the strongest leagues in Europe there is every chance he will do so. Chris Cargo, Peter Caruth, Conor & David Harte, John Jackson, John Jermyn, Eugene Magee, Geoff McCabe, Andy McConnell, Michael Watt and team captain Ronan Gormley all play their club hockey overseas.
The Japan (WR: 16) squad is very much a mixed bag in terms of experience. Four players – Kazuyuki Ozawa (154 caps), Koji Kayukawa (135), Kazuhiro Tsubouchi (135) and team captain Kei Kawakami (127) – have each earned over 100 caps, while four others will be making their international debuts here in Quilmes. The uncapped Satoshi Sarugai, Ryo Shibita, Hiroki Ijima and Akira Morishima have all been selected by Japan coach Shunsuke Nagaoka. There are also four players who have less than ten caps, suggesting that like other teams in this competition Japan are very much looking to the future. Although there is significant inexperience amongst the ranks, you can be sure that Japan will be well-drilled, skilful and certainly should not be taken for granted.
To see a complete list of the squads competing in the Argentina hockey Champions Challenge 1, please click here.
The Argentina Hockey Men’s Champions Challenge 1 gets underway on Saturday 24 November and will feature the first round of matches in Pool A and Pool B. The action begins in Pool A at 10:00 (UTC / GMT -3) when Korea and Canada go head to head before Malaysia do battle with Poland at 12:30. At 1500, South Africa take on Pool B rivals Japan before Argentina face a tough opener against Ireland at 17:30. To see a complete list of fixtures for the tournament, please click here.
You can keep up to speed on all the developments from the tournament on the FIH website, which will be regularly updated with the latest news, league tables, images and match highlights. The FIH will also be posting updates from the tournament to twitter via @FIH_Hockey, using the hashtag #championschallenge .
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