[img_assist|nid=7542|title=FIH World League|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=125|height=125]With their decisive win over Canada (5-2), Belgium have a clear lead at the top of the standings and, pending an improbable miracle, are qualified for the next round of the Hockey World League. France struggled to take the better of Scotland, but their narrow win (2-1) is enough to set-up a torrid last match against Canada, with the winner grabbing 2nd position in the competition and a possible qualification for the next round.
Poland earned their first win of the week against Portugal (9-1) but still need to face Belgium on Sunday and could very well finish behind lower ranked Scotland in the standings.
Poland vs. Portugal: 9-1 (half-time: 4-1)
Day 4 of the Hockey World League Round 2 in Saint-Germain started under a timid sun that could not warm up a temperature unseasonably cool for the season. Both teams needed a few minutes to find their rhythm, then traded shots on goal at both ends but with no real danger for keepers Paulo Nogueira for Portugal and Lukasz Domachowski for Poland.
Poland progressively became more threatening, and Szymon Hutek, Karol Majchrzak and Krystian Makowsk scored within a few minutes of each other, pushing the score to 3-0 after 15 minutes of play. This sudden burst of goals took some wind out of the Portuguese sails and pace of play went down a notch.
Portugal had a few opportunities on a series of penalty-corner but could not capitalize and Polish Captain Dariusz Rachwalski promptly added a 4th goal. In the last second of the period, Carlos Silva scored a superb penalty-corner for Portugal, shaving the post out of reach of the Polish keeper, but Poland reached the break with a comfortable 4-1 lead.
Poland benefited from an own goal by a Lusitanian defender early in second period, virtually putting the contest out of reach for Portugal. They never gave up but could not prevent Poland to control play. The Poles added 4 more goals but were denied multiple times by Paulo Nogueira, excellent in the Portuguese goal.
Poland finally earned their first win of the competition on the final score of 9-1.
For more information and pictures of POL vs. POR, click here.
Canada vs. Belgium: 2-5 (half-time: 1-3)
The crowd was waiting with anticipation this match between two serious contenders for a ticket to the next round of the Hockey World League, still unbeaten in this competition. Belgium immediately staked their claim on the match, Tom Boon opening the scoring in the first minute of play on a cross from the left. They kept pushing to try and make an immediate break, but the Canadians held tight and even threatened the Belgian goal a few times. However, the next chance was for Sebastien Dockier, exploiting well a messy situation in the circle to establish a 2-goal lead for Belgium.
Ensued a period of Canadian domination, rewarded by a goal by Iain Smythe after some hard work by Matt Guest progressing along the back line. Pushed around at the beginning of the period by the experienced Belgians, the Canadians were now holding their ground tightly, well backed by Dave Carter in good form in goal. Mark Person had an opportunity on a cross that rolled in front of goal, but his spectacular dive was just short. Florent Van Aubel was more realistic at the other end, scoring a 3rd goal for Belgium just before half-time, reached on the score of 3-1.
Belgium immediately pushed forward in second period, expertly forcing an early penalty-corner converted by Tom Boon, his 12th goal of the competition. Canada survived 2 more penalty-corners in quick succession and reacted well, Scott Tupper scoring at the other end after a mistraped penalty-corner that nevertheless came back quickly to him in the circle.
Play was flowing back and forth in attractive way. Canada was sometimes stretched and committing unforced errors, immediately exploited by Belgium for some swift counterattacks that often forced Dave Carter to rush out of his goal. With time passing, and a few Canadian players temporarily out of commission with injuries, Belgium controlled more and more the proceedings. They did not score more goals… until the final seconds of the match, when Sebastien Dockier pushed the score to 5-2 for a 5th Belgian win, and a sure qualification for the next round of the Hockey World League.
Canada were never overwhelmed but, just like France two days before, could not close the gap with the more experienced Belgians.
For more information and pictures of CAN vs. BEL, click here.
Scotland vs. France: 1-2 (half-time: 0-1)
Before the match, French Captain Frederic Verrier was recognized for his 100th Cap for France.
Les Bleus, playing in white for once, immediately showed their attacking intents, Matthieu Durchon forcing James Cachia in the Scottish goal to perform an acrobatic double save on a high shot. The Scots were also in an attacking mood and play was flying back and forth at high speed, much to the pleasure of the large local crowd on hand despite the cool temperature.
France earned a penalty-corner after 15 minutes but over-complicated their option and the Scots managed to clear the ball. Les Bleus were less fancy but equally unsuccessful on their 2nd attempt a few minutes later. Scotland also had a chance on a penalty-corner of their own but Martin Zylbermann did two superb saves on a succession of shots from close range.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 25th minute by Tom Genestet, collecting the rebound from another unsuccessful French penalty-corner and slotting the ball high in goal over James Cachia. Score remained unchanged until half-time, with a meagre one-goal lead for France and the feeling that the result could go either way.
France immediately tried to increase their lead at the beginning of second period, pushed forward once again by the devastating rushes of veteran Matthieu Durchon, but Scotland held tight. Play became balanced for a long period, very much in midfield with few circle penetrations at either end. The best chance was for Scotland on a penalty-corner but France was saved once again by an acrobatic diving save of Martin Zylbermann.
With time passing and the result still very much in doubt, the crowd became anxious and the players nervous, especially after a sequence when France could not do much even with a 2-man advantage. The last ten minutes of play were fairly messy, with unforced errors on both sides. The Scots desperately pushed to force equalization, but left space in their defense in the process and Martin Genestet was at the conclusion of a swift counter-attack to establish a more comfortable 2-goal cushion. The relief of the crowd was short lived, Alan Forsyth scoring on the next action with a spectacular diving deflection.
The Scots however ran out of time and France were relieved to finish unscathed and to collect the 3 points of the win, setting up a torrid decisive match against Canada for the second position in the competition, and a possible qualification for the next round of the Hockey World League.
For more information and pictures of SCO vs. FRA, click here.
Schedule for Sunday May 12:
13h00: Belgium vs. Poland
15h30: Scotland vs. Portugal
18h00: France vs. Canada