It's down to the wire this weekend in Barcelona, Spain where the conclusion to the 2008 Samsung Super League with FEI season looks set to be a real thriller.
Can the Germans, currently holding a commanding lead at the top of the table after seven of the eight legs of the series, secure their third consecutive title or will the British or Dutch snatch a last-minute victory? And can Sweden produce some kind of miracle to avoid relegation?
Divine intervention may indeed be required for Maria Gretzer's crew as the Swedes come to the Spanish fixture with only a three-strong side. They have been languishing at the bottom of the leaderboard throughout the entire season and are staring relegation in the face. It is a very tall order to expect that Jens Fredricson, Helena Lundback and Jannike West can save the day at this very late stage but the sport of show jumping, and Nations' Cup competition in particular, is an unpredictable business. So often the big fish fail to shine on the most important occasions while the minnows take us all by surprise. The sharks may be circling the Swedes but they are unlikely to go down without a fight, and the double-points on offer at this last event could turn things around dramatically.
The post-Olympic period leaves many nations short on horse-power, but the Germans never look weak. Even if they are obliged to field their second, third or fourth-team selection they remain comfortably competitive and they have plenty of strength amidst the group of five riders from which team manager Sonke Sonksen will choose his final four for Sunday's clash. Otto Becker, Ludger Beerbaum, Anna-Maria Jakobs, Marco Kutscher and Carsten-Otto Nagel present a formidable force, and with the added determination to redress the imbalance after a disappointing team result in Hong Kong they should be hard to beat.
Germany has only a 7.5 point advantage over Great Britain in second place going into the final battle however and the British, whose luck totally deserted them in Hong Kong but who were outstanding winners at the penultimate leg of the Samsung Super League with FEI series in Dublin last month, will be nipping at those German heels all the way.
Derek Ricketts' side includes Peter Charles, Tim Stockdale and Michael Whitaker while Di Lampard makes a welcome return after a long absence and Charlotte Platt, who shot to prominence with a superb performance in the sixth round of the series in Hickstead, will also be one to watch. Platt produced the only double-clear of the day at the British venue in July, and the 22 year old is armed once again with Paulien 11.
The Netherlands lies third, five points adrift of the British, and they look like powerful challengers. Chef d'Equipe Rob Ehrens has five riders available, and all with their top horses. This could prove pivotal. The team manger's biggest headache this weekend could be the decision about who to leave on the sidelines as he has Angelique Hoorn, Marc Houtzager, Piet Raijmakers, Gerco Schroder and Leon Thijssen to choose from, and he will be determined to make those double-points count.
Team USA is still basking in the glory of that magnificent Olympic victory, but manager George Morris won't be resting on his laurels anytime soon and will have great expectations for this coming weekend. Laura Kraut is the only member of his victorious Olympic side to line out in Barcelona where she will be joined by Samsung Super League with FEI newcomer James Benedetto, Georgina Bloomberg and Nicole Shahinian-Simpson. Carrying 25.83 points and lying fourth going into the final the Americans have no chance of overtaking the Germans on the leaderboard but have every opportunity to improve their position and will be determined to do so.
The Irish are only two points behind the USA but are feeling very vulnerable indeed. World No.6, Jessica Kuerten, has declined to travel to Spain and with Denis Lynch suspended, injury to Niall Talbot's Tequi D'I after Spruce Meadows and a poor run of recent form from Edward Doyle's Sequoyah Farms Utopia team manager Robert Splaine has been seriously concerned. Should the Swedes produce that miracle and finish in first or second spot and the Irish finish last then it will be the green brigade who take the relegation nose-dive and, after the long tough struggle to return to the elite nations' cup sport, that would be a hard pill to swallow.
Splaine will have been encouraged by some good results over the weekend however including Cian O'Conno'sr Grand Prix victory with Rancorrado at Chantilly where the Irishman also took the Leading Rider Trophy. So although army captains Shane Carey and David O'Brien are short of match-practice they can be relied upon to give it their best shot while Cameron Hanley's new ride, Southwind VDL, is a seriously exciting prospect on a very definite upward curve - things may not be so bleak after all.
The Belgians are lying sixth and can boast the reigning World Champion, Jos Lansink, amongst their ranks as they line out on Sunday. However Chef d'Equipe Lucien Somers has had a frustrating season, with everything looking so good when they came out on top at the opening leg of the series in La Baule last May but little to cheer about since then as, apart from a good third-place result in Rotterdam in June, they have never finished better than sixth. Lansink is joined by Christophe van der Hasselt, Philippe Lejeune, Patrick McEntee and Patrick Spits at this final countdown.
Switzerland lies second-last on the leaderboard, just over seven points ahead of Sweden after a wildly inconsistent run that has included two joint-second-place finishes, a fifth, a seventh, a fourth and two last-place results. Chef d'Equipe Rolf Grass never lost his nerve throughout the season however and very nearly secured team medals in Hong Kong where his side finished fourth. He sends out his entire Olympic team - Steve Guerdat, Christina Liebherr, Niklaus Schurtenberger abd Pius Schwizer - this weekend and, joined by Celine Stauffer, they are likely to make their presence felt.
So the stage is set for the conclusion to another exciting chapter of show jumping history. Only the British and Dutch can now steal the 2008 crown from those German heads - can one of them succeed? And can the struggling Swedes find any way of surviving? The odds are heavily stacked against them but team manager Maria Gretzer says "we don't give up, we will try...." That's the spirit of the Samsung Super League with FEI series.
SAMSUNG SUPER LEAGUE WITH FEI - NATIONAL PRIDE, INTERNATIONAL PASSION!
SAMSUNG SUPER LEAGUE WITH FEI 2008 - LEADERBOARD AFTER SEVENTH LEG IN DUBLIN:
1. Germany - 47.00
2. Great Britain - 39.5
3. Netherlands - 34.5
4. USA - 25.83
5. Ireland - 23.83
6. Belgium - 23.5
7. Switzerland - 20.58
8. Sweden - 12.75.
For further information on the 2008 Samsung Super League with FEI final at the Real Club de Polo, Barcelona check out website www.csiobarcelona.com. President is Juan Angel Calzado, CSIO President is Joaquin Calvo, Show Director is Hans Peter Vogelsanger and Press Officer is Isabel Suter - Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
FEI TELEVISION - BROADCAST INFORMATION - 2008 SERIES FINAL IN BARCELONA:
TV3 (Spain) - Check local listings
Equidia (France) - Saturday 27 September 20.45
Dubai Sports Channel - Check local listings
RAI (Italy) - Check local listings
TV4 (Sweden) - Sunday 21 September 23.00
CNBC Asia - Saturday 4 October 15.00
CNBC Europe - Saturday 5 October 17.00
ESPN Brazil - Check local listings
ESPN Star (Pan Asia) - Tuesday 7 October 18.00, Wednesday 8 October 09.00, 18.00, Thursday 9 October 02.00, Friday 10 October 23.00, Monday 13 October 05.00.
EUROSPORT - Wednesday 24 September 20.55, Thursday 25 September 08.30.
EUROSPORT ASIA - Thursday 25 September 10.00
FINNISH SPORT TV - Saturday 4 October 18.25
FOX MIDDLE EAST - Friday 3 October 15.30
SETANTA SPORTS (Ireland) - Check local listings
SUPERSPORT (Pan Africa) - Thursday 9 october 19.30, Friday 10 October 01.30, 06.00, Saturday 11 October 09.30, Sunday 12 October 12.00, Monday 13 October 15.00, Tuesday 14 October 17.00, Wednesday 15 October 22.00.
SPORT PLUS (France) - Monday 29 September 22.00
SPORT TV (Portugal) - Check local listings
TG4 (Ireland) - Check local listings
TVE (Spain) - Check local listings
WCSN (USA) - Check local listings
SAMSUNG SUPER LEAGUE WITH FEI - 2008 CALENDAR OF EVENTS:
ROUND 1 - La Baule (FRA) 5-11 May; ROUND 2 - Rome (ITA) 22-25 May; ROUND 3 - St Gallen (SUI) 29 May - 1 June: ROUND 4 - Rotterdam (NED) 18-22 June; ROUND 5 - Aachen (GER) 1-6 July; ROUND 6 - Hickstead (GBR) 24-27 July; ROUND 7 - Dublin (IRL) 8-10 August; ROUND 8 and FINAL - Barcelona (ESP) 18-21 September.
You can access all the latest Samsung Super League with FEI news and information on website www.samsungsuperleague.com
Want to know more? Check out the comprehensive MEDIA GUIDE for the series, available in print (contact: email@example.com)and for download at www.samsungsuperleague.com under "Media Guide" heading.
PHOTOGRAPHS - A Photo Gallery of pictures is available on the Samsung Super League with FEI website for use by professional media only. The gallery will be regularly updated with low and high-resolution photographs and is password protected. To obtain a password follow the simple instructions when clicking on the link.
The Samsung Super League with FEI consists of the eight most prestigious horse shows at which the world's eight best national teams compare their merit. The Samsung Super League with FEI is connected to the FEI Nations Cup series through a promotion/relegation system at the end of each season.
Samsung Electronics, one of the world's largest electronics companies, is committed to supporting international sporting events, thereby returning corporate profits to the public and working towards a more harmonious and equitable society.