The draw for this PanAmerican event, which starts in Buenos Aires on June 18, was undertaken today. There are two groups with five teams each, and what matters is to grab at least the second spot in the group and qualify for the semi-finals, which then gives the chance for getting the third spot overall (behind Argentina and Brazil) which is needed to qualify for the 2013 World Championship.
It is widely assumed that, behind the overwhelming favorites Argentina and Brazil, Chile is the strongest team, as evidenced by a very respectable showing in the 2011 World Championship and in the recent Olympic qualifying. They have several players with high-level European club experience, notably the Feuchtmann brothers and especially the world-class pivot Oneto, who is playing for Barcelona. Uruguay, who was seeded at the same level as Chile, is clearly a more modest opponent. But the bad luck for the USA team is that they were indeed placed in the same group as Chile, so the path to the semi-finals will not be easy.
The draw: Group A: Argentina – Chile – Greenland – USA – Venezuela; Group B: Brazil – Uruguay – Dominican Republic – Mexico – Paraguay. A strong performance will enable the USA team to beat Greenland and Venezuela, but either one of these teams could just as well be a stumbling block. Nevertheless, the key will be the ability to surprise the Chilean team. And should the USA team succeed in that game, then the good news is that the opponent in a bronze medal game would probably be less formidable.
The schedule also may tend to favor the USA team. The very first game on June 18 is against Argentina. I do not want to be cynical, but it is probably just as well to get this game out of the way first, in part to use it as a preparation for the games that really have to be won. Following a rest day on the 19th, USA will play Greenland on the 20th and Venezuela on the 21st. Then comes the game against Chile on the 22nd. By that time, Chile will presumably already have lost against Argentina and will be resigned to facing Brazil in the semi-final. The semifinals are played on the 23rd and the medal games on the 24th.
It had been announced that Canada would take part, but there are rumors that a last-minute decision from their Olympic Committee to withhold funding spoiled those plans. This is why Paraguay suddenly entered the picture. There has speculation about the format for future PanAmerican Championships beyond this event. My sources indicate that the notion of playing Championships with 12 teams is just unrealistic, so future events will have 8 or 10 teams.
But instead of reintroducing the unpopular continent-wide qualifying event (‘Division 1’), it seems that the focus will instead be in establishing regional competition as a basis for the qualifying to the Elite level. For the U.S. teams, together with Canada and Greenland, this would inevitably involve some form of integration with at least the Caribbean nations and probably also the Central Americans.
Finally, efforts are being made to establish some form of web broadcasting, but the details are not known yet.