Needle on the cards as GB hockey men play Argentina first


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The Independent Online

Great Britain's men will begin their Olympic hockey campaign against Argentina. The high-profile opener will come just weeks after a controversial advert showing Argentina's former captain training on the steps of a British war memorial in the Falklands was condemned by the International Olympic Committee.

Britain, ranked fourth in the world, have also been drawn in Pool A with Australia, the world's No 1 side, Spain, Pakistan and South Africa, but it is the opening game that will draw most attention. It will be played under floodlights on 30 July, the first Monday of the Games.

Earlier this month an advert featuring Fernando Zylberberg showed the defender running past various landmarks around the Falkland Islands, including the memorial to islanders who died in the First World War. The tagline for the ad read "To compete on English soil, we train on Argentinian soil."

Argentina's Olympic Committee sought to distance itself from the ad, but it was "applauded" by Cristina Kirchner, the country's president. The IOC criticised its showing, saying in a statement: "The Games should not be a forum to raise political issues."

The two teams are already scheduled to play each other on Monday in Malaysia in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, with Argentina having left Zylberberg out of the squad for the seven-team tournament. The Argentina coach, Pablo Rossi, put the absence of Zylberberg, who has played at two previous Olympics and used to captain the side, down to "sporting reasons". Barring injury to another player, Zylberberg is now unlikely to feature in the squad for London.

Britain's men have realistic medal prospects and will be expected to beat Argentina, who are ranked No 9. Britain's women, who beat Argentina, the world champions, at the London test event earlier this month, have an even better chance – they are considered gold medal contenders and have been drawn with Netherlands, China, Korea, Japan and Belgium.

Hockey tickets are among those on offer from 11am today, when all those remaining for the Games go on general sale. While all athletics, swimming and cycling have sold out, there are £50 tickets on offer for Tom Daley's diving events.

Olympic news you may have missed...

Blanka Vlasic, one of the world's leading high jumpers and silver medallist in Beijing four years ago, may miss the Games because of health problems. The 28-year-old who holds the second-best jump of all time with 2.08m, had surgery on her left ankle and heel this year, but the recovery was complicated by a bacterial infection. "This whole season – particularly London – is in question," Vlasic said. "I will [decide] a day before the Olympics."

The badminton world No 1 Lee Chong Wei's participation in the Olympics is in doubt after he limped out of a Thomas Cup match with a damaged ankle. The 29-year-old Malaysian won silver in 2008.

What's coming up...

Who's up?

Andrew Baggaley British table tennis player hopes to draw on home support at the Games after winning two golds at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. "The support was massive," he said. "It really does help when you are playing in front of that."

Who's down?

Hollie Avil British triathlete has retired after battling with eat-ing disorder. "My health and happiness was at risk," said Avil, who competed in Beijing in 2008. "Life is too short."

Darius Knight Twenty-year-old has been overlooked for Britain's table tennis squad, despite moving to Austria in search of more funding.

What's coming up...

Friday-Sunday Great Britain travel to Lucerne in Switzerland for the second World Cup meet of the year. The regatta is the final Olympic qualifying event. Keep an eye out for the men's four, who won in the first event earlier this month.