Argentina favourites for women`s Champions Trophy

Amsterdam: Argentina have once again been installed as the team to beat ahead of the eight-team women`s hockey Champions Trophy, which begins on Saturday.

As world champions and reigning Champions Trophy holders, Argentina are favoured to prevail again over hosts the Netherlands, having beaten the Dutch side twice in those two finals last year.

The tournament has two pools, with the top two teams in each pool progressing to the semi-finals.

Argentina and England are most likely to make the semi-finals from Pool A, ahead of China and South Korea, while Australia and New Zealand will struggle to make the semi-finals from Pool B ahead of Germany and the Netherlands.

Argentina coach Carlos Retegui is up against former national team-mate Max Caldas, now coach of the Netherlands, who reads Retegui like an open book having played with him for more than eight years.

Retegui can call upon the legendary 300-cap Luciana Aymar, a seven-time international player of the year, who returns after a long lay-off following the World Cup last September in Argentina.

Her ability to evade the close attentions of opposition players and score impossible goals has earned her the nickname `The Magician` from her country`s fanatical fans.

Argentina are predicted to make short work of England in the second Pool A match on Saturday.

Six of the eight teams here are already assured of qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics.

Only hosts the Netherlands and neighbours Germany are yet to qualify and must do so at the European Championship in Moenchengladbach, Germany, seven weeks after the end of this tournament.

Past Dutch teams have shown they have difficulty peaking twice inside two months.

Caldas has held five key players out of the Champions Trophy -- Ellen Hoog, Sophie Polkamp, Kitty van Male, Maartje Goderie and Naomi van As -- to keep them fresh for the London qualifier.

Caldas selected star striker and former international player of the year van As for the Champions Trophy, but her ankle and shin problems saw her replaced by Merel de Blaey.

China meet South Korea in the first match of the tournament in a repeat of the Asian Games final won 5-4 by China on penalty strokes after a scoreless 85 minutes of play.

Coached by former South Korean men`s coach Kim Sang-ryul, China have been inconsistent at the top international level, losing 4-3 to New Zealand for last place at the Champions Trophy in Nottingham last year and losing 3-0, again to New Zealand, to take eighth place at the World Cup.

New Zealand have slowly improved under former Australian striker Mark `Horrie` Hagar, who has brought new young talent into the squad, including dual cricket and hockey international Sophie Devine.

New Australia coach Adam Commens has swept a broom through his squad, replacing World Cup players with up-and-coming starlets such as Georgie Parker and Jacklyn McRae, who performed well in the recent Australian Hockey League.

Australia`s prospects could be determined by their first match against the Netherlands, as a loss would require them to beat Germany to stand any chance of making the semi-finals.

Germany play New Zealand first up, with Germany holding the psychological advantage after a recent 3-0 victory last week.

Germany are searching for a replacement for retired captain Fanny Rinne, who has dominated Germany`s midfield, attack and defence for a decade.

Bureau Report

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