With the league phase of the Rabobank World Cup in the Netherlands drawing to a close, Australian men are table toppers in Group A. They were joined by England, who met Belgium on Monday’s must-win last league game. Australia’s last league encounter was with India, in which they stamped their superiority in men’s hockey by scoring a resounding victory. While England will take on the Group B leaders, Netherlands in the semifinals, Australia’s opponents will be known only after other Group B league matches are completed on Tuesday. Unfortunate Indians will have to remain content with lower placings; when they play either Korea or South Africa for the 9th/10th places. In women’s Group A, Netherlands top the table with Australia right behind, while USA and Argentina will finish 1 & 2 in Group B, unless the Chinese women pull off any unlikely miracle.
Though the score of 4-0 suggests a complete rout of the Indians, such was not indeed the case. It is true that Australia played a much superior and explosive hockey, the Indians didn’t meekly surrender. As the match began, Australians charged into the Indian penalty area and scored in the 3rd minute of the play, when Kieran Govers made a great start rushing solo in an open field and shooting accurately. Despite the early setback, Indians were not cowed down. Rupinder Singh and Sardar Singh made their moves, though such forays couldn’t be translated into goals. But Australians were kept in check at times by some of the talented Indian players. Custodian, PR Sreejesh was at his usual best and he blocked many scoring opportunities for Australia. But it cannot be denied that the reigning champions played a better overall game. Australia made it 2-0 in the 16th minute, when a precisely crafted low drag flick from Chris Ciriello beat Sreejesh. India continued to play enterprising hockey, regardless. Australia earned a penalty corner in the 20th minute and Jeremy Hayward made no mistake to put Australia 3-0 ahead. The clinical display of the Australians was evident, whenever they launched an offensive. Chris Ciriello scored another goal for Australia in the 22nd minute, once again from an ingenious drag flick to which Sreejesh didn’t have a clue.
Around this time, Australia’s mercurial captain Mark Knowles collided with an India defender and took a hit on his head. He had to be taken off the field on a stretcher to the great disappointment of the coach Ric Charlesworth. At half time Australians led 4-0, having scored all their goals in the relatively early part of the first half. With couple of other Australian players suffering injuries, the second half didn’t have much action. Indian forwards, however, did their best to find the target. On two occasions, the attempts were thwarted by Australia’s goalkeepers. First it was Andrew Charter, who brilliantly blocked a mighty heave from Yuvraj Walmiki and when Australia replaced the keeper, Dharamveer welcomed the new man, Tyler Lovell with a stinging shot.
The match between the Englishmen and the Belgians went to wire. To enter the semifinal England needed a win, while just a draw would have been adequate for Belgium. It was a thriller that was decided in the last few minutes of the match. Despite a fine start from England, it was Belgium, who scored first, when Simon Gougnard created a brilliant opportunity by running round England defenders and finding Thomas Briels on the right spot in the 13th minute. Briels drove past George Pinner, without any errors. In the 19th minute, however, Nick Catlin equalized for England and they took a vital 2-1 lead in the 39th minute, when Ashley Jackson scored from a pass from Catlin. The Englishmen made an error of trying to preserve their slender lead but they suffered for such attitude, when Belgium’s Tanguy Cosyns converted a penalty corner in the 63rd minute. The 2-2 score suited Belgium perfectly but they needed to ensure that England didn’t score again. It was different for England since they needed a win. England got lucky in the 66th minute, when Lain Lewers calmly slotted the ball into the Belgian goal from a penalty corner.
In other league matches played on June 8, German men defeated New-Zealand 5-3 and Argentinian men routed Korea 5-0. In the women’s Group A matches, US beat Germany 4-1, Argentina defeated England 2-1 and China beat South Africa 4-3. On June 9, Australian and New-Zealand women drew their game 0-0, Spain’s men team defeated Malaysia 5-2; Dutchwomen overpowered Korea 3-0 and Japanese women drew with Belgium 2-2.
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