[img_assist|nid=7542|title=FIH World League|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=100]Yan Huckendubler writes for the FIH: The Men’s World League Round 2 starts on Monday in the pleasant Stade George-Lefèvre in Saint-Germain, just outside Paris, with 6 teams fighting to a ticket for the next round of the competition. While Belgium is favorites to win, second place will be fiercely contested between Canada, host France, Poland and Scotland.
This is the third Round 2 competition of the current World League, after tournaments in New Delhi (where India and Ireland qualified) and Rio de Janeiro (where Argentina and South Africa qualified). The last Round 2 tournament will be in Elektrostal, Russia, at the end of May. All qualified teams will join the top 8 teams in the FIH Rankings at the World League semi-finals in June.
Belgium are the top ranked team in this competition (9th in the latest FIH Rankings) and are on the momentum of a brilliant performance at the Olympic Games in London, where they finished 5th. Their inspirational Captain Maxime Luycx retired after the Olympic year, but Belgium still arrive in Saint-Germain with a formidable squad including 10 Olympians, led by John-John Dohmen, Jerome Dekeyser, Tom Boon, Felix Denayer and FIH Young player of the Year nominee Florent van Aubel.
Belgium is both the youngest and most experienced squad in Saint-Germain, and showed their current ambitions by beating both France and Poland in recent preparation matches.
Canada is the next team in the World Rankings at 14th, but had mediocre results in their recent international competitions, finishing 3rd at the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi and 6th at the 2012 Champions Challenge in Quilmes. Eleven of the players who competed at the Qualifier in Delhi are still on the squad, but they are now without their charismatic veterans Ken Pereira and Rob Short, as well as Scott Sandison and Sukhwinder “Gabbar” Singh (more than 1,000 Caps between them).
This young Canadian team is led by captain and penalty-corner striker Scott Tupper, forwards Philip Wright and Mark Pearson, and can also rely on two solid goal-keepers, but they might suffer from their lack of competitive matches in the last 6 months.
At 17th, France are next in the FIH Rankings. Their rebuilding phase under Frédéric Soyez gained momentum after a good performance at the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi, where they edged out Canada and Poland to reach the Final. Despite losing heavily against host India, they left convinced that they were not far from the next level, and might be capable of upsetting the top teams on a good day.
France, now captained by Frederic Verrier, have kept 10 players from the Qualifier in Delhi and register the return of veteran Matthieu Durchon, after 4 years of retirement from the international scene. The venue is the home club for 7 of the French players, and Les Bleus will certainly be pushed by the local crowd in their decisive matches.
Ranked 19th in the world, Poland won the first ever World League event in August in Prague to qualify for Round 2, but had a poor showing a few months later at the Champions Challenge in Quilmes, where they finished 8th. They have not played much outdoor since, and might have trouble finding their rhythm in the early matches. Led by their talented Captain Dariusz Rachwalski, MVP at the 2011 Indoor World Cup, they are always difficult opposition and should certainly not be taken lightly.
Canada, France and Poland are very close in the rankings, and their recent confrontations have always been tight affairs. At the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi, France beat Poland 2-1, Poland beat Canada 3-2, Canada and France tied 1-1, then Canada beat Poland 4-3 for 3rd place. At the Champions Challenge in Quilmes, Canada and Poland tied 3-3 in pool play before Canada beat Poland 4-2 for classification.
Both Scotland (ranked 23rd) and Portugal (ranked 50th) qualified for this Round 2 through the Round 1 tournament in Lousada, Portugal, in September. Scotland cruised over the opposition, scoring 30 goals and conceding none. Led by Niall Stott, the Scots arrive in Saint-Germain convinced that they can challenge Canada, France and Poland despite the gap in ranking.
Low ranked Portugal were the revelation of the Round 1 competition in Lousada; entering in 4th position, they edged out Gibraltar for the second qualifying spot after a dramatic penalty shoot-out, showing that no competitor should be taken lightly in an event such as the new World League.
Action starts on Monday at Stade Georges Lefevre (Camp des Loges) in Saint-Germain with Belgium against Portunal, Canada against Scotland and finally host France against Poland. Matches on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday are at the same times (13h00, 15h30 and 18h00) with France always playing the last match of the day.
Monday May 6:
13h00: Belgium vs. Portugal
15h30: Canada vs. Scotland
18h00: France vs. Poland