With just two days to go until the Standard Chartered Bank FIH Men’s Junior World Cup 2009 kicks off here in Singapore and Johor Bahru, representatives from all teams participated in a media briefing today, outlining their aspirations and expectations for the quadrennial summit of junior teams.
Speakers for all teams were hesitant to name favorites, and were quick to point out that no opponent must be underestimated. They were also unanimous in their assessment that predictions are extremely difficult, given that junior teams only meet at this level once every four years.
Nonetheless, the strong European teams, the Netherlands, Spain and Germany, surely must be considered the likeliest to reach the semi-finals, together with India and Pakistan, current junior World Champions Argentina, Australia and New Zealand as well as dark horse Korea.
In Pool A, Argentina are favorites, and enter the competition with champion-making coach Pablo Lombi but have an entirely different team from four years ago when they were able to lift the Cup. They face stiff competition in the preliminary round from Pakistan who line up with a very experienced squad, with every single Greenshirt sporting at least a handful of senior caps and quite a few having participated in last year's Olympic Games or the recent Asia Cup.
With the recent successes of their senior team, Belgium must be considered a potential force on the junior level as well, and may well spring a surprise on their opponents. Egypt and Russia, two relatively unknown squads, complete the first quintet.
Pool B, one of the two pools playing their preliminary round of matches in Singapore, sports Germany and Australia as the driving forces. Germany have traditionally been struggling to reach the very top on the junior level in the last few years, but as current World and Olympic Champions on the senior level, must never be overlooked when it comes to men's hockey.
Australia have been preparing exhaustively for this event and will find it easier to cope with the temperatures than European squads, so may have a slight advantage when it comes down to it. Chile, Japan and South Africa make up the rest of Pool B, stepping up to challenge the two giants.
Olympic silver medalist Roc Oliva leads Spain, the current European Champions on the Junior level, in their campaign that starts off in pool C, where they face, amongst others, the Korean team. Strong and unrelenting like their seniors, Korea are certainly a force to be counted on as well.
England co-hosts Malaysia both aspire to challenge Spain and Korea in the race to the top in pool C, which seems to be one of the if not the most closely contested pools in the preliminary round of this competition, leaving the USA team as a David facing a quartet of Goliaths.
Finally, pool D sees the traditionally strong team from the Netherlands challenged by India and New Zealand, with the Junior Blacksticks led by Simon Child, another of a handful Beijing Olympians in this event. Poland and Singapore are the remaining two contenders, with the Europeans traditionally able to irk even the top teams, while the second host team Singapore are a relatively young and inexperienced side that is expected to struggle with keeping up with the technical skills, tactics and experience some of their opponents bring to the field.
All in all, the Standard Chartered Bank FIH Men’s Junior World Cup 2009, a mammoth event hosted in Singapore and Johor Bahru over 15 days, with 20 teams playing out 82 matches will see plenty of action and present a glimpse of the future of men's hockey. Be sure to follow our extensive tournament coverage including a live ticker from key matches, daily summaries, a photo gallery and video interviews at http://www.juniorworldcupmen2009.sportcentric.com.