The Investec World League in London is almost upon us, starting as it does this Saturday. With the announcement of the combination of green pitches and blue Ds as well as an all-star roster of world class talent on display, The Top of the D is more than a little excited for a whole week of live hockey. So, what better way to channel that excitement than to run the rule over the teams playing in the tournament? Today, it’s the teams in Pool A.
World Ranking: 2
Squad: Luciana Aymar, Laura Aladro (GK), Noel Barrionuevo, Martina Cavallero, Silvina D´Elía, María Jose Fernández, Giselle Juárez, Rosario Luchetti, Gabriela Ludueña, Sofía Maccari, Florencia Mutio (GK), Carla Rebecchi, Macarena Rodríguez, Rocío Sánchez Moccia, Mariela Scarone, Daniela Sruoga, Josefina Sruoga, Florencia Habif.
They may have a new coach in Emanuel Roggero, but despite the change at the top, Las Leonas have selected save for a couple of changes, pretty much the squad they sent to the Olympics in London where they won the silver medal.
Their world ranking and the settled nature of their team means most expect them to come through what is arguably the easier of the two pools with something to spare. However, as they showed in the Olympics and at the Pan-American Games in 2011, the USA are something of a bogey side for them. The Stars and Stripes defeated the South American side 1-0 in London and 4-2 in Guadalajara in the Pan-Am final. It is the US that they face first, but a side containing the class of the likes of Noel Barrionuevo, Carla Rebecchi, Rocio Sanchez Moccia and of course, Luciana Aymar would expect to overcome the challenge and make their way through to the quarter finals as group winners. Make no mistake about it, if even one or two of their stars turn it on, Las Leonas will take some stopping and the spectators in London will be in for a treat.
Player to watch: No prizes for guessing this one. Luciana Aymar is now 35 but still going strong. Arguably the most gifted female player of all time, she has won the World Player of the Year award no less than seven times. She has terrific skill, balance and seems to glide past opponents all over the pitch with a grace and ease rivalled perhaps only by Naomi Van As of the Netherlands. Aymar is a delight to watch and will be at the heart of everything good her team does.
World Ranking: 7
Squad: Mengyu Wang, Weilin Mao, Sinan Sun, Qiuxia Cui, Xiayun Xi, Yannan Cao, Yan Yan, Yimeng Zhang (GK), Hongxia Li, Ye Ren, Xiaoxue Zhang, Qian Shao, Qingling Song, JiaoJiao De, Pan Liu, Meiyu Liang, Yang Peng, Ji Li (GK).
I’ve always found China an odd side. Well organised and with some decent pedigree (silver medallists in the 2008 Olympics, for example) they always look like a team who could do well. Ranked 7 in the world, they are obviously no mugs, and yet, there is something missing about them. Perhaps it’s shyness in front of goal, (they only managed 6 goals in the whole of the London Olympics) or perhaps it’s their lack of consistency, as evidenced by their results at the Riverbank Arena? They beat hosts Great Britain and had the home side teetering on the brink of elimination, only to lose against a very modest Japan side in the next match, costing them a place in the medal rounds. They are frustratingly inconsistent. Their team is brimming with experience as no less than six of their squad have over 100 caps. I suppose their chances depend on which China turns up on which day.
Player to watch: Goalkeeper Yimeng Zhang, a veteran of three Olympic Games is an excellent shot stopper. She is brave and athletic and on the occasions I’ve seen her play, has always kept the score respectable or her team in the contest. With 152 caps to her name, you can’t buy that sort of experience. If her team are to spring a surprise against the “big guns” in this competition, her abilities to keep the goals out will be very important.
World Ranking: 17.
Squad: Details not available at time of writing.
Italy are the lowest ranked side in the competition, although they qualified ahead of Spain at the World League Round 2 event in Valencia. The Azzurri scored 12 goals and conceded just 3 on their way to topping the group and sealing their place at London. You’d have to say it will be a tall order to repeat that trick against the quality of opposition they face in the pool and the latter stages. Expect their defence and goalkeeper to be up against it once the action starts this weekend.
Player to watch: Alessia Padalino scored four of the Italians’ 12 goals in the qualifiers and has to be their best chance of finding the net in London. She has experience of playing in the Dutch league and is a very useful option from penalty corners. She will have to make the best of the chances which come her way.
World Ranking: 10
Squad: Lauren Crandall, Rachel Dawson, Katelyn Falgowski, Stefanie Fee, Melissa Gonzalez, Michelle Kasold, Jackie Kinzter, Jamie Montgomery, Caroline Nichols, Katie O’Donnell, Julia Reinprecht, Katie Reinprecht, Paige Selenski, Shannon Taylor, Michelle Vittese, Alesha Widdall, Jill Witmer, Emily Wold.
With Craig Parnham, former Great Britain assistant coach taking over as coach of the USA many of the home crowd will be watching with interest to see what he has done with the team since the Olympics. He has named 12 Olympians, including four two-time Olympians, in a side with plenty of experience. The USA finished last at London 2012, but it was not without its highlights. The 1-0 win over Argentina was a huge moment for the Stars and Stripes whilst they were unlucky not to take at least a point from Germany, losing 2-1. They have qualified for this tournament after finishing top of the World League Group in Rio, finishing ahead of both Chile and Scotland, scoring 18 goals and conceding just two in the process. There is no doubt that the USA has the potential to upset the odds on their day. Perhaps a little more consistency will be the aim for Craig Parnham’s side.
Player to watch: Defender Lauren Crandall impressed with a series of commanding defensive displays at London 2012 and with over 200 international caps to her name she has cemented her place as a key member of the US squad. She is a useful penalty corner option and can chip in with her share of goals, however it is fair to say her defensive qualities are what will come to the fore in London next week.
That takes care of Pool A. On paper you would expect Argentina to have little trouble negotiating their way to the top of the group, leaving the others fighting for the scraps. However, as the USA have proved before, anything can happen. Likewise, you would write China off at your peril, however I think it’ll all be a bit too much for the Italians.
Part two of my preview, including England, will follow tomorrow.
You can still buy tickets for the World League in London. Details of how are here.