Argentina go to Auckland for the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final as defending champions and their mercurial striker Delfina Merino is hoping that Las Leonas end their year on a high by repeating their 2015 success.
“The Hockey World League is really important because the best teams play there,” says Merino. “It is similar in format to the Champions Trophy and I love the Champions Trophy. You get to play a lot of very important games against really top opposition in a 10 day period. We are also looking forward to these finals because we have great memories of the 2015 Final in Rosario.”
And, she added with a wry smile. “We do need to finish our year in a better way.”
This last comment is in reference to the past few results at major internationals: a seventh place finish at the Rio Olympics and a fourth place finish at the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in Johannesburg, plus a slide down the world ranking from second to third – these are unfamiliar territories for Las Leonas and something the team is working hard to change.
“We left the Hockey World League Semi-Finals in South Africa and went straight into a very rigorous training schedule, says Merino, who finished joint second among the scorers in South Africa.
The rigour of the Argentina training schedule is no exaggeration. The squad has been in full-time training Monday to Friday since July, with training twice a day for the first three days, then additional training in the evening with their own clubs on Thursday and a club match on Saturday. As Merino says: “This is the way we feel we can go to the Hockey World League Final best prepared.”
“There is a lot of history between us and Holland and every time we play them there is a different challenge. They are a great side and always bring something different."
Delfina Merino, Argentina
The team also notched up a win against the USA in the recent Pan American Cup, which took place in Pennsylvania, USA. It was a win that not only gave Argentina bragging rights but did a lot to restore confidence within the squad.
“Playing USA is always difficult, they are a strong team, very physical and difficult to play against,” says the striker. “In their coach, Janneke Schopman, they have really good coach. We have a young and growing team so it was good for us to beat them in the Pan American Cup final.”
As with all teams that will be competing in Auckland, the past 18 months have been a time for change and reflection. Merino says a lot of young players have joined Las Leonas from the junior national side and, although they arrive on the back of a winning Junior World Cup display, there is still a huge jump from junior to senior level. But, she says: “They are very talented players and they bring a lot of energy. Now it is a case of combining the younger and older players both on and off the pitch. That is a process that can’t be rushed but we are all putting our energy into it.”
For Merino, the forthcoming trip to Auckland will be a special one. Not only does she love the event itself and the challenges it offers but the player’s parents are also travelling to watch her games and then they will spend some family time enjoying the New Zealand culture and way of life.
“I have been been eight times myself and I think it is an amazing country with a fantastic culture and amazing beaches. Sure, we will have some jet lag but we arrive a week early so we have time to adjust.”
When it comes to the opposition, Merino is relishing another encounter with the Netherlands. Having played club hockey in Holland, she has a lot of friends in the Netherlands national team but this will pose no problem once the national anthems have been sung and the teams line up for action.
“There is a lot of history between us and Holland and every time we play them there is a different challenge. They are a great side and always bring something different. That makes it exciting. I am looking forward to playing on the same field as a lot of my friends but wearing a different shirt.”
Argentina are in pool B with China, England and Germany. Their first match will be against China on 18 November at 14:00pm.
Follow all the action from the Sentinel Homes Hockey World League Final Auckland 2017 by using #HWL2017.