The Irish team are hot favourites to win the second leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series in Rome (ITA) tomorrow, but they got the worst of the draw today and so will be first into the ring as the action gets underway in the stunning surroundings of the Piazza di Siena. A total of nine teams will line out in this leg of the elite eight-nation tournament, as the host country makes a guest appearance on home turf.
The order-of-go for tomorrow's competition is as follows: 1, Ireland; 2, France; 3, USA; 4, The Netherlands; 5, Denmark; 6, Germany; 7, Italy; 8, Great Britain; 9, Belgium.
Discussing team prospects this evening, Belgian Chef d'Equipe, Philipp Guerdat, said that "everyone has a chance, but the Irish are very strong because they have been winning everywhere!". Robert Splaine's side stormed to victory in the opening leg of the FEI Nations Cup™ in La Baule, France two weeks ago, and then another Irish selection topped the podium at the FEI Promotional League in Copenhagen, Denmark a week later. It seems they are the hottest team in town.
Danish Chef d'Equipe, Achaz von Buchwaldt, said however that Germany is a big threat, and no-one can deny that any side including Ludger Beerbaum, Marcus Ehning, Philipp Weishaupt, Daniel Deusser and Ulrich Kirchhoff is one to be feared. The Danes had a tough time at the French fixture where they failed to complete the second round, but they will be hoping for better things this time out.
Collapse of the French
The biggest surprise at La Baule was the collapse of the French. Series winners for the last two seasons, they were strongly fancied to conquer all in front of their home crowd, but things really didn't go their way when their hero Kevin Staut, who has held the No. 1 spot on the Rolex World Rankings for quite some time, was eliminated in the first round and retired second time out.
"We started well, but then it fell apart - it was quite a shock, but ours is an experienced side and we will be putting it behind us for tomorrow I can assure you!" French team manager Henk Nooren said today.
The Belgians are drawn last. They were only pipped for the win at La Baule due to an unfortunate and uncharacteristic mistake by Philippe Le Jeune's stallion Vigo d'Arsouilles which cost them dearly, and they are likely to be out for revenge this week.
A Matter of Pride
For the Italians however, a good result tomorrow is purely a matter of pride.
As FEI Commercial Coordinator, Sophie Ruiz, pointed out "the Italian team was relegated from the Top League two years ago, but Italy's record on home ground is a formidable one, because they have collected the Nations Cup trophy here on 27 occasions. And it is now 25 years since their last success, so I have no doubt that, although they cannot pick up points tomorrow, they will be giving it everything they've got!" Italian Chef d'Equipe, Stefano Scaccabarozzi, backed that up when he said "my team are the outsiders, and sometimes that's not a bad way to start a competition..."
It seems the Irish are on a roll however, and Henk Nooren paid them the highest tribute when he pointed out that "the reason they won the first leg is because they never give up. At La Baule they gave us all a lesson in determination - they showed what you can do if you really put your mind to it, and I think we can all learn from that".
Best Foot Forward
Robert Splaine will be hoping that Cameron Hanley, Shane Carey, Shane Sweetnam and Billy Twomey can put their best foot forward again tomorrow, and he was upbeat about Ireland's chances of making it two wins in a row. "We have really good team spirit and that counts for a lot - yes, I believe we can do it again!" he said. And he has one more all-important incentive, because if they succeed it will be an historic first-ever victory for his country in the hallowed Rome arena.
The broadcast will begin at 13.55 GMT (1.55pm). The first round will end at 15.15 GMT (3.15pm); the competition will resume at 15.30 GMT (3.30pm) for the second round which will finish at 17.20 GMT (5.20pm).
For further information on the second leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup™ series in Rome (ITA) consult www.piazzadisiena.com or contact Press Officer Caterina Vagnozzi, Email email@example.com, Tel +39 335 610 7070.
FEI Nations Cup 2011 - Standings after Round 1 at La Baule (FRA):
1. Ireland - 10
2. Belgium - 7
3. Germany - 6
4. Great Britain - 5
5. USA - 4
6. The Netherlands - 3
7. France - 2
8. Denmark - 1
George Morris, US Chef d'Equipe - "I couldn't even make an educated guess about which team will win here tomorrow - I think there are 4 to 6 teams that could do it".
Rob Ehrens, The Netherlands Chef d'Equipe - "We have a good team here and we look forward to the battle tomorrow - I would be happy if we finish second or third".
The FEI Nations Cup™ is a five-star competition in which official teams representing nations compare their merit. At each event the teams gain points according to their placing. At the end of the 2011 season the team with the highest points wins the FEI Nations Cup™ and the two teams with the lowest points will be relegated to the FEI Nations Cup Promotional League. The highest placed team from the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final and the highest placed Team on the FEI European Nations Cup Promotional League standings immediately prior to the 2011 FEI Nations Cup Promotional League Final will join the FEI Nations Cup™ Top League for 2012.
FEI Nations Cup™ 2011 Calendar:
La Baule (FRA), Friday 13 May; Rome (ITA), Friday 27 May; St Gallen (SUI), Friday 3 June; Falsterbo (SWE), Friday 8 July; Aachen (GER), Thursday 14 July; Hickstead (GBR), Friday 29 July; Dublin (IRL); Friday 5 August.; Rotterdam (NED), Friday 26 August.
Photo Caption: The draw for the second leg of the 2011 FEI Nations Cup took place in Rome (ITA) today. Photo: FEI/Bruno de Lorenzo.