The third of six Hockey World League Round 2 events gets underway in San Diego this afternoon. Ireland, Austria, Chile, Italy, Canada, Russia, Trinidad & Tobago and host nation USA doing battle in the California sunshine in the hope of landing a place in the Olympic qualifying phase of the competition.

The three highest finishers in the eight-team men’s tournament, which takes place at the Chula Vista Olympic Training Center between Saturday 28th February and Sunday 8th March, will each be guaranteed a place in the Hockey World League Semi-Finals (Round 3), where coveted berths at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games are up for grabs.

Like all of the Round 2 events, the competition in San Diego will witness a clash between teams that battled their way through the first phase of the competition against sides that were automatically given a bye through to Round 2 due to their higher placement in the FIH World Rankings. The top ranked teams – those placed from 1-11 in the FIH World Rankings in April 2013, the entry deadline for the event – will enter the tournament in Round 3.

With a current World Ranking of 15th and the most experienced squad in the tournament (average age: 27, average caps: 98), Ireland are widely regarded to be amongst the frontrunners in Chula Vista. Lead by team captain John Jackson, the team contains eight players that have surpassed the 100 caps marker and in Davey Harte are blessed with a truly exceptional goalkeeper. The Green Machine will need to negotiate their way past Pool A rivals and 2015 Indoor World Cup silver medalists Austria (WR: 22, 1st place – HWL R1, Lousada), Chile (WR: 25, 1st place – HWL R1, Guadalajara) and Italy (WR: 32, 2nd place – HWL R1, Lousada) and ahead of the quarter-final cross-overs.

Canada and Russia, arguably Ireland’s strongest challengers, feature alongside host nation USA and Trinidad & Tobago in an extremely competitive looking Pool B. Canada (WR: 14) are the top ranked team in tournament and, lead by the class and experience of Dave Jameson (206 Caps), Scott Tupper (196 Caps) and Mark Pearson (163 Caps), will be looking to make a big impression on this event. Russia (WR: 19) qualified for second phase by winning the HWL R1 event in Sveti Ivan Zelina (Croatia) back in July.

Home favourites USA (WR: 27) will be determined to take advantage of the home turf to make their mark on this Round 2 event. USA’s opening day fixture against Canada promises to be a special moment for captain Pat Harris, who is all set to make his 100th international appearance in front of his home fans. Trinidad & Tobago  (WR: 30,1st place – HWL R1, Kingston) are the lowest ranked team in Pool B but with the brilliant and totally unpredictable veteran star Kwan Browne amongst their ranks are certainly not to be underestimated.

The top three teams in San Diego will join Malaysia, Poland and Japan, who all qualified for the HWL Semis by taking the medals at the first men’s Round 2tournament in Singapore earlier this year. The third and final men’s Round 2 competition takes place in Cape Town (RSA) from 7-15 March, where another eight teams will fight for three available places in Round 3.

You can keep track of all the action from San Diego on the official tournament microsite.

The EHF would like to wish success to the European teams in San Diego and look forward to the updates from the FIH.

Source material: FIH.CH

Photograph: Ireland v Russia at the 2011 Olympic Qualifier (Adrian Boehm (c))