Hosts shine in hockey test event in Rio
Brazil’s men defeated South American rivals Chile in dramatic fashion to win the Aquece Rio International Hockey Championship – raising hopes that the sport will attract a fanatical local following ahead of next year’s Olympic Games.
The home nation won the final 3-2 in a penalty shoot-out after drawing the match 2-2, while the women’s final saw Barbados convincingly beat Peru 3-0. The eight-team competition at the brand new hockey venue in Deodoro Olympic Park captured the imaginations of those present and was described as “very positive” by organisers.
Matheus Borges was the hero in the men's final, scoring the decisive penalty to spark wild celebrations, and said that the event had meant a great deal to him and the Brazilian team.
“It was really emotional,” said Borges, who wears the vaunted number 10 shirt for Brazil. “My mission is to score goals, so I have to score. If I am managing to do that, it’s a good sign.”
Brazil's fared less well in the women's tournament, finishing fourth after losing the bronze medal match 2-1 to Paraguay. Barbados were the stand-out team and were delighted with how things turned out both on and off the pitch. “We are very happy with the venue, it’s great, the turf especially,” said Tricia-Ann Greaves, who scored one of their goals in the final.
The pitch itself gives a distinctive feel to a sport that is still finding its way in Brazil. Its blue surface, green border, white lines and yellow ball with which matches will be contested were unveiled before the test event and Greaves was not the only person to be impressed. “This is the best surface that exists for playing hockey, the most modern in the world,” said Claudio Rocha, the coach of the Brazilian men's team.
Among those to use the pitch during the tournament were the reigning Olympic women's champions, the Netherlands. Although they were not participating, they trained on the surface ahead of next week's World League finals in Rosario (ARG). Their captain, Ellen Hoog, said: “It’s my first time in Rio and it’s very special to be here. The Olympic venue looks really, really good, the pitch looks great.”
It was a refrain echoed by those in charge of ensuring the test event passed smoothly. “Everything that we had to test was tested and approved,” said Luciano Elias, Rio 2016 hockey venue manager. “The outcome was very positive, and this is thanks to the integration of the teams who worked there."
Twelve teams will contest each of the Olympic hockey tournaments next year. Brazil will be represented in the men's event, and will aim to build on the tide of enthusiasm for the sport generated in November.