A cool first-half finish from Mark Gleghorne and a late Ashley Jackson PC saw England home against Malaysia in the Hague, setting up an Ashes battle with Australia on Saturday.
The England defence held firm as the lead stood at 1-0 for most of the match after Gleghorne flicked home on the reverse stick from five yards in the fourth minute. Barry Middleton found the East Grinstead striker free in the box after Ashley Jackson picked out the skipper at the right-top of the circle.
Goalie George Pinner produced a fine save in the 63rd minute to deny Malaysia a PC equaliser after England had squandered several chances to double their lead. Jackson then flicked home a PC in the 67th minute to settle the nerves.
“It is nervy every game for us at the moment because every game is a cup final,” said Pinner. “We know we can’t afford any slip ups – especially today – if we are gong to make the semi finals.
“That has shown a bit, but, again we created some really good chances and were unfortunate not to go in [to half time] two or three goals up.
“That is a recurring theme for us but, again, we were so strong defensively, and that saw us through.
“If you look at the last three games we have given teams very very little. In the India game they got re-awarded corners but we don’t really give away PCs . We don’t give away chances. We are confident that if we keep playing our game we can see a game out. But of course, there are nerves!
“I have had a couple of unlucky sort of goals in the first couple of games so it is nice to get a proper meaningful save under me.
England have two wins and a draw under their belts but face the two form teams in pool A, world champions Australia and European silver medallists Belgium, in their next two games.
“We knew we couldn’t slip up today and we will see now what we have to do over the next two games. But if you want to win the World Cup you have to beat Australia and you have to beat Belgium and that is now our aim.”
Defender Iain Lewers played his first hockey of the World Cup showing no ill effects from a dead-leg injury as he made a brief first-half appearance and played a full second-half.
Jackson looked close to full power when he flicked England’s second, but he is still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered a week before the tournament. And he was in pain after scoring the goal.
England play Australia at 4pm CEST on Saturday (3pm UK) and Belgium at 7.45pm (6.45pm UK) on Monday.