Men's FIH Pro League 2019: Trouble brews in Holland while Argentina struggle without Gonzalo Peillat
The first chinks in the armor are beginning to appear in the all-powerful Hockey Pro League which has progressed flawlessly thus far - barring Pakistan's early suspension, which seems to have been forgotten by all concerned.
The Men's event is now being referred to as an eight-team competition - like the ninth never existed, to begin with - but signs of dissent which have begun to emanate from the Netherlands could well tarnish the image of FIH's ambitious and prestigious brainchild.
While the Dutch players are having to choose between club and country, the Argentinians seem to have fallen prey to dissent of a different kind.
Carlos Retegui watched helplessly from the sidelines as the team he had mentored all the way to Olympic glory sank without a trace at the Estadio Mundialista, in Rosario.
GB thrash a depleted Argentinian side
Ever since Chapa's exit, the Los Leones have struggled, with less than remarkable performances at last year's Azlan Shah Cup, Champions Trophy, and World Cup - but Saturday's defeat to Great Britain by a 1-5 margin marks a new low for the South American side who had stunned the hockey world with their rapid rise to the top.
Not even Gonzalo Peillat's brace could prevent his side from crashing out of the World Cup in the quarterfinal against England - and the absence of the master drag-flicker, following a reported fall-out with the team management, is costing Argentina dear.
Peillat, who had almost-singlehandedly guided his team to gold at Rio 2016 will not be in action at the Pro League, as per reports. Veteran striker Lucas Vila missed the action against a reinforced Great Britain side who beat Vivaldi thrice - and scored two when the ace goalkeeper had been taken off at the death.
Sam Ward, who was ruled out of the Odisha World Cup, due to a concussion, just a week before the start of the tournament, displayed that he is as fit as ever - propelling the GB side to a memorable win with some able assistance from Phil Roper and Alan Forsyth.
As a result of the win, GB has moved up to the second position in the points table in terms of percentage of wins, although the British side has played just four matches, as compared to table-toppers Australia who has played seven.
Argentina is now in the fifth position out of eight teams, in the FIH Pro League, with three wins and an equal number of defeats from seven games - one place ahead of the Dutch who have only played five.
Dutch players caught between club and country
The Netherlands will be looking to get back amongst the top four, and have a chance to begin the process when they meet a winless Spanish side on Saturday, but coach Max Caldas will first need to overcome some brewing discontent in his own camp.
Reports in a Dutch website pointed to signs of trouble that emanated owing to the fact that some players who will be required to don national colors, also have club commitments to fulfill, as a result of which the KNHB (Koninklijke Hockey Bond) or the Royal Dutch Hockey Association, is in conflict with Holland's Oranje Rood Club.
"There is a conflict between the club and KNHB which is not solved yet and will have to be solved before the next Pro League season," said master coach Siegfried Aikman.
The Dutchman went to elaborate on the nature of the dispute and shed light on the complexities involved.
"One of the leading clubs in Holland, Oranje Rood, didn't want to allow their players to join the national team for the Pro-League match against Spain. Prior to the Pro-League series, they had agreed to allow their national team players to play. Based on their approval - and that of the other clubs - a schedule was set."
"By withdrawing at this late moment, the Dutch National team faced a difficult situation. That is the reason why the staff talked to the players and told them that due to these circumstances, they wouldn't be selected for the national team temporarily."
"When asked until when this would be, they were told that they would not be selected until the European Championships in August. Players wanted to play that tournament and that put pressure on the relationship with their club and employer. "
"The club is paying the players and need them for the EHL (Euro Hockey League) finals later in April. However, now that the players would be unable to attend the European Championship, the club allowed the selected players to join the Spain match - but the club complained that this is due to blackmail."
Meanwhile, the Belgians take on Spain at home on Wednesday, and the World Champions who currently occupy the third spot in the League will be keen to outdo their European rivals and justify their world rankings.
Shane McLeod's boys who became the top-ranked side in the world following their World Cup win last year have two wins and two draws from four matches - and, are the only team who have managed to beat the Aussies in the Pro League thus far.
Super Saturday will witness two clashes.
The Dutch will hope to overcome the internal wrangles when they take on Spain, at Rotterdam, while the New Zealand Black Sticks who are at the bottom of the heap will be aiming to upset Argentina, at home, later that evening.
The Spanish Red Sticks, incidentally, have managed to earn eight points thanks to four draws and four shootout bonus points but have yet to record an outright win.