France shine against Belgium

[img_assist|nid=7542|title=FIH World League|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=150|height=150]Canada struggled to beat Portugal (1-4) but maintained their unblemished record of 3 wins ahead of their decisive encounters against Belgium and Canada. Scotland won a dramatic shoot-out against Poland, after the two teams ended regulation time tied 3-3. Belgium narrowly got the better over France (2-3) in a hotly contested match, the first direct match between the top contenders for the final qualification.  

After 3 days, Belgium and Canada top the standings with 9 points for their 3 wins, France is just behind with 6 points, Scotland with 2 points is ahead of Poland thanks to their shoot-out win of the afternoon, and Portugal is still chasing their first point, although they scored their first goal today against Canada.

Portugal vs. Canada: 1-4 (half-time: 0-3)

Day 3 of the Hockey World League Round 2 in Saint-Germain started under timid sun and cool temperature, a perfect weather to play hockey. Canada immediately pushed forward; they had a couple attempts on goal in the first minute of play and scored on their first penalty-corner a few minutes later, Scott Tupper slotting in goal a low flick that eluded the stick of the Portuguese defender on the post. Matt Guest scored shortly after to establish a 2-goal cushion.

Pedro Santos was kept busy in the Portuguese goal, with a lot of traffic in the circle in front of him, but he stood tall to thwart a few Canadian attempts from close range. Canada were totally controlling play and circulating the ball well around the Portuguese defense but, just like France against the same team on Tuesday, failed to capitalize on their domination. They had to wait until the last minute of the period to increase their tally, again by Scott Tupper on penalty-corner, for a 3-0 lead going into the break.

Portugal had a good chance at the very beginning of second period, well saved by Antoni Kindler who had just replaced David Carter in the Canadian goal. Canada continued along the same pattern as in first period, dominating play but consistently committing unforced errors when approaching the Portuguese circle. Portugal were more realistic, taking advantage of a rare incursion in Canadian territory to force a penalty-corner, scored in style by Ricardo Fernandes!

Lifted by their first goal of the competition, the Portuguese players kept pushing and had another chance on a penalty-corner soon after, but it was shot wide. Canada scored a 4th goal literally in the last second of play by Keegan Pereira. They seemed satisfied to control play and pocket the 3 points of the win with the meagre 4-1 score, but they will not be happy by the high number of unforced errors committed in this match.  

For more information and pictures of POR vs. CAN, click here.

Poland vs. Scotland: 3-3 (half-time: 1-2 – shoot-outs: 3-4)

Second match of Day 3 started at high speed and Scotland, buoyed by the wonderful bagpipe version of “Flower of Scotland”, were on the score sheet within one minute of play by Alan Forsyth! They nearly doubled their tally soon after by Nicholas Parkes, but his reverse stick shot flew just high of goal.

Poland seemed to struggle to settle down and the Scots continued their relentless efforts, forcing Lukasz Domachowski in the Polish goal to stand tall on two shots from close range in quick succession. Once again, it was Dariusz Rachwalski who shook up the Polish troops; after anchoring the defense when it was under pressure, he forced a penalty-corner at the other end after a long run on the right, and Michal Nowakowski slotted a powerful shot under the crossbar to tie the score.

Play became more balanced, flowing quickly back and forth, but no more goals were scored… until the final second of the period, when Scotland capitalized on a penalty-corner with a low shot by Wei Adams, for a narrow, but deserved, lead going into the break (2-1).

Poland started second period determined to come back level promptly, and did just that: after a free hit played quickly, Dariusz Rachwalski left no chance to James Cachia in the Scottish goal with a quick reverse stick shot. With teams back on par, Poland progressively took a slight control of play, creating more dangerous chances than their opponents. They were rewarded in the 57th minute when Krystian Makowski found the ball in a dense scramble in the circle and managed to push it in goal.

But Scotland were not done yet: they forced two penalty-corners, then a penalty-stroke, and Niall Stott did not miss the opportunity to level the score once again at 3-3. Both teams threw caution to the wind in the final minutes of play to try and break the deadlock, but to no avail, and the crowd was treated to a series a shoot-outs for the first time in this competition.

Scotland had the possibility to win in the first series of 5 shoot-outs, but Poland forced the contest into sudden-death fort a dramatic final, when Scotland finally prevailed, earning the 2 points of the “win-draw”.

For more information and pictures of POL vs. SCO, click here.

France vs Belgium: 2-3 (half-time: 1-1)

A large crowd was on-hand for the much anticipated match between host France and top-ranked team Belgium. After a vibrant rendition of La Marseillaise by the home crowd, Belgium promptly forced a penalty-corner, but Tom Boon’s powerful high flick was superbly countered by a flying save by Martin Zylbermann in the French goal.

Belgium were equally unsuccessful on their next two penalty-corner attempts and play became more balanced. France were taking advantage of all their chances to push forward and challenge the Belgian defense, and they were rewarded by a superb goal by Arnaud Becuwe in a narrow angle from the right of the circle, after a swift rush by Matthieu Durchon. They maintained their momentum, pushing Belgium on their heels, and narrowly missed the opportunity to increase their lead on a fancy penalty-corner option.

Belgium reacted strongly, well decided to close the gap before the break and they manage to do it in the final minute of the period with an unstoppable penalty-corner by Tom Boon, his 10th goal of the competition.

Belgium immediately pushed up the pace in 2nd period and created a hot sequence in the French circle, but the first serious attempt on goal was at the other end by Matthieu Durchon, once again surging through the defense for a quick shot barely handled by Vincent Van Asch in the Belgian goal.

The match was played at a thundering pace, much to the pleasure of the enthusiastic crowd. Les Bleus were working hard and Arnaud Becuwe had a chance in a crowded circle, but his shot was just wide. Belgium, playing with the poise of experience, weathered the storm in defense but could not break the deadlock in attack, despite a few chances on penalty-corner.

With 15 minutes to go, tension got up a few notches, on the pitch and in the stands. Despite hot contestation from the French players (and the crowd), Belgium earned another penalty-corner on a blunder by the French defense and Florent Van Aubel deflected the ball in front of the keeper to give his team a narrow 1-goal lead.

They got some more breathing room in the 66th minute on another penalty-corner, this time by Loïck Luypaert collecting the rebound to slide the ball under the keeper. The French fans got wild when Viktor Lockwood received the ball after a broken penalty-corner and managed to place it just inside the post. But it was too little too late and, despite pulling their goal-keeper in the final minute of play, France could not equalize and Belgium earned their 3rd win of the competition, this time against a direct contender for the final qualification.

France might be disappointed by the narrow loss, but they will surely take solace in their strong performance, nearly on par with a team ranked much higher than them.

For more information and pictures of FRA vs. BEL, click here.

Schedule for Saturday May 11:
13h00: Poland vs. Portugal
15h30: Canada vs. Belgium
18h00: Scotland vs. France

All content from fih.ch wrtitten by Yan Huckendubler