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Delfina Merino is used in playing packed stadiums across the world, but nowhere, she says, is like playing in front of the home crowds in Argentina.
“The crowd goes crazy for hockey,” says the 2017 FIH Hockey Stars Player of the Year, “there is singing, dancing and the noise… it is truly crazy.”
All of which means that the Argentina hockey team is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the FIH Pro League in their country as they prepare to host the world’s best teams – male and female – in the inaugural year of competition.
“It is early to say,” says Merino, “But there are so many benefits to the FIH Pro League. The prospect of so many international fixtures in a short period of time will really bring hockey back to the people of Argentina.”
"While hockey is already the number one sport for females in Argentina, even more people will identify with our team once the FIH Pro League begins."
Delfina Merino, Argentina
It has been some time since Argentina played host to major senior international hockey. The 2016 Hockey World League Final in Rosario was the last occasion. Then, one of the game’s global icons was celebrated as the stadium was officially named after Luciana Aymar who, two years earlier, ended her illustrious playing career on a winning note at the 2014 Hockey Champions Trophy in her homeland in front of an emotional audience.
The FIH Pro League will be a chance for Argentina and its opponents to taste South American hockey at its best.
For Merino, the FIH Pro League will also provide an opportunity for players to experience hockey in different countries and within different cultures. While the 29-year-old is a seasoned traveller – having spent time playing club hockey in Europe as well as travelling the globe with Las Leonas – it is the new recruits to the team that will benefit most from the experiences.
“It will give players the chance to see other cultures but also regularly experience different styles of play and see how other countries prepare for international games,” says the 2010 World Cup gold medallist.
“Yes, the travelling and dealing with jet-lag could pose some problems but each team will have its own way of dealing with that. It might mean a few more days off after travelling, it might mean adapting the way we train, but we will work that out as we experience this new format.
“Every country will have its own way of dealing with the new challenges but that is also what adds to the excitement and interest of the FIH Pro League.”
As someone who played alongside the eight time winner of the FIH Player of the Year, and counts Aymar as a friend and role model, Merino knows the power of live sport on the public’s appreciation of the game. “It is going to be really cool to play the FIH Pro League in Argentina. The fans will love to see international hockey in our country. New role models will be created and, while hockey is already the number one sport for females in Argentina, even more people will identify with our team. This will drive interest and passion for the sport to new levels.”
Argentina’s first home matches take place on 26 January 2019 at the Estadio Municipal de Hockey, Cordoba, when first the men and then the women take on the Red Lions and Red Panthers of Belgium.