[img_assist|nid=7542|title=FIH World League|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=125|height=125]The Hockey World League Round 2, superbly organized by the French Federation and the local club in Saint-Germain, concluded with the undisputed victory of Belgium, unbeaten in 5 matches. The local crowd was treated to a superb fight for 2nd position between France and Canada, ending in the narrow win for the host (3-2). Scotland finished fourth, followed by Poland and Portugal.
Belgium vs. Poland: 10-1 (half-time: 5-0)
After 4 wins earlier in the week, Belgium were already sure of winning the competition and the qualification for the next round of the Hockey world League. They were however going for a full hand and pushed the Poles back on their heels from the opening whistle. Poland held their ground for a while, survived the first Tom Boon’s penalty-corner but had to concede a penalty-stroke after 15 minutes of play, Jerome Dekeyser leaving absolutely no chance to Arkadiusz Matuszak in the Polish goal.
Dekeyser doubled his tally shortly after and completed a hat-trick within 20 minutes. With the final result not any more in doubt, pace of play abated a few notches. Belgium scored 2 more goals to reach the break with a comfortable lead (5-0).
Second period was played without much passion by either team, or by the crowd, just trying to stay warm in the chilly afternoon. Poland had a good surge halfway through the period and Mateusz Hulboj scored with a sumptuous shot under the crossbar, but Belgium cruised to an easy 10-1 victory, with 4 goals for Jerome Dekeyser and 3 for top scorer of the competition Tom Boon.
Belgium were clearly the better team of the competition and did not falter to finish with 5 wins, only having some trouble in the close encounter against host France (3-2). Poland finished the week with only one win, against Portugal (9-1), and will be especially disappointed to finish behind Scotland, a team 4 spots lower than them in the World Rankings, after losing to them in a shoot-out competition.
For more information and pictures of BEL vs. POL, click here.
Scotland vs. Portugal: 9-0 (half-time: 4-0)
Scotland wanted a win to comfort their forth place in the competition and immediately set to the task. The two teams had met last September in the Round 1 of the World League, with a clear win for Scotland (7-0), but Portugal have progressed enormously in the last months, and since the start of the competition in Saint-Germain, and the Scots had a hard time creating any initial danger for Paulo Nogueira in the Portuguese goal.
It is only after 12 minutes of play that Ian Moodie opened the scoring, diving on the far post to deflect a cross after a scrambled penalty-corner. Portugal nearly equalized on the next action, but Alan Forsyth gave a more comfortable 2-goal cushion to Scotland. They benefitted from an own goal by a Portuguese defender, scrambled a penalty-corner chance and survived a messy situation in front of their goal before Niall Stott finally found the back of the net again for a 4-0 lead going into the break.
Pace picked up a tad in second period, both teams receiving the support of the crowd starting to fill the stands for the much anticipated match between France and Canada. Pedro Santos was busy in the Portuguese goal. He kept the opponent at bay for 10 minutes until Gordon Mcintyre added a goal for Scotland. Portugal had 2 good chances on penalty-corners but were denied by excellent saves by Allan Dick, much to the disappointment of the numerous Portuguese fans in the stands.
William Marshall was more efficient at the other end, opting for a straight shot on goal on a penalty-corner to push the score to 6-0. Portugal was now fading quickly and play stayed confined in their 25m. Scotland added 3 more goals for a final score of 9-0.
As they had boldly announced, Scotland did challenge higher ranked Canada and France during this tournament, and will take solace in finishing ahead of Poland thanks to a dramatic shoot-out competition earlier in the week. Portugal’s ambition was to learn from their much more experienced opponents and they have certainly achieved that objective, progressing from match to match during the week.
For more information and pictures of SCO vs. POR, click here.
France vs. Canada: 3-2 (half-time: 1-2)
With Belgium logically winning the tournament and qualifying for the next round of the World League, the last match of the day was the perfect climax to the competition: with similar results during the week, France and Canada were fighting for the 2nd position in the standings and a qualification for the semi-finals of the World League (depending on the results of the last Round 2 tournament at the end of the month in Russia). The French slight advantage in goal-difference did not mean anything since the matches of the World League always end with a winner, either after regular time or after a series of shoot-outs.
Canada have a marginally better World Ranking (14th vs. 17th), but it was clear during the week that the two teams are very close to each other, in style of play, strengths and weaknesses, as reflected in their last result in official competition (1-1 at the Olympic Qualifier in Delhi).
A large flag waving crowd was on hand to cheer the French team, and the tone of the match was immediately given by a harsh tackle by a French defender on a Canadian forward, who took a long time to stand up. Both teams were visibly nervous and committed unforced errors in the opening minutes. Canada forced a penalty-corner in the 5th minute of play; the initial shot was saved by Martin Zylbermann, but David Jameson was on hand to pick-up the ball after a series of rebounds and slot it high in goal, silencing the home crowd.
Scott Tupper scored another penalty-corner soon after to establish a 2-goal lead, but the French players finally settled their nerves and also scored a penalty-corner by Viktor Lockwood. It was suddenly the turn of the Canadian defense to be under intense pressure, and they were saved on another penalty-corner by an excellent Dave Carter in goal.
Pace of play (and the crowd) became quieter with 10 minutes to go in the period, neither team wanting to take too much risk. Canada earned a penalty-corner in the last minute of the period but could not capitalize and the break was reached on a 2-1 score for Canada, and the feeling that the final result could go either way.
France immediately forced a penalty-corner on their first action of second period, but Dave Carter in the Canadian goal was once again on hand with a flying save. After the initial excitement, play settled in midfield, with both teams working very hard but without creating clear chances. France earned another penalty-corner on a high ball rebounding in the circle, but were yet again denied by Carter.
The Canadians were clearly under pressure, but nevertheless managed to maintain their defensive structure. They were lucky on a few occasions and were still holding their meagre advantage with 20 minutes to go. Play was however confined in their defensive end and, with one less player on the bench, they were starting to show some fatigue. It was only a question of time and Viktor Lockwood finally scored his second penalty-corner of the match, setting up a torrid end of match with both teams on par and back to square one.
Canada had a chance against the run of play soon after, but Scott Tupper’s flick flew just high of the crossbar. With time passing, the tension was palpable, on the pitch and in the stands. The deadlock was finally broken by Matthieu Durchon, collecting the rebound from a penalty-corner and slotting it over the sliding keeper.
With the clock ticking down, the Canadians desperately pushed forward to grab the equalizer, but they ran out of steam and Les Bleus and their fans were soon celebrating their win. They will now need to wait for the results of the last Round 2 tournament in Russia to know if they are invited to play in the next round of the World League.
For more information and pictures of FRA vs. CAN, click here.
*All content from fih.ch by Yan Huckendubler