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The Top of the D: Inside knowledge – did it help decide the outcome of the World Cup final?

Australia’s devastating performance in the World Cup final was without doubt one of the best team displays I have ever seen. To take apart a side of the quality of the Netherlands in such a way was hugely impressive and of course the hat-trick of penalty corner goals from the Kookaburras’ Chris Ciriello was a personal achievement that will take some beating.

Ciriello was flicking very well throughout the tournament and had netted four times before his treble in the final, so perhaps it is no surprise he was able to score the goals he did. However, having seen him find the same spot on all three strikes and having seen him beat Jaap Stockmann with ease on all of them I was curious as to what the secret behind the success was. Granted, all three were powerful and accurate strikes that would take some stopping, but Stockmann is renowned as one of the best goalkeepers in the world so to see him bested so easily was a surprise, to say the least. I couldn’t help but wonder whether the fact that Ciriello has spent a number of seasons plying his trade at HC Bloemendaal in Holland, the same club as Stockmann, was a determining factor in that incredible hat-trick. Perhaps the time spent training together had given the Australian some inside knowledge.

Ciriello was coy about it in the post-match interview: “I felt good but we have two other top class guys on corners so I was just grateful they let me have a go. Jaap’s a great goalkeeper so I was really happy to beat him, I just wanted to flick it hard and low and I was relieved to see them go in.”

Hardly a declaration that he knew Stockmann’s weaknesses but it is difficult to arrive at any conclusion apart from one that years of playing with the Dutch stopper have allowed him the insight on where best to place his corners. Luckily for Ric Charlesworth’s team, he had the skill to find that gap each time and reaped the rewards.

It is not only the Australian who has used such knowledge to his advantage. England’s Mark Gleghorne played in the Hockey India League in the same side as India’s goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. The England man beat his HIL teammate with a precise drag flick in one of the pool games and confirmed afterwards he knew the goalkeeper’s right hand side was an area his teammate struggled with and that’s why he aimed there.

Just when it looked like goalkeepers were reaching a stage where they were catching up with the strikers and finding ways to keep them out it seems the emergence of the Hockey India League and the influx of players from all over the world into different domestic leagues has meant the initiative has swung back towards the scorers.

Only time will tell if this knowledge will start to benefit the goalkeepers as well, but one thing’s for sure, if they don’t find a way to evolve and adapt once more, we may see many more feats like Ciriello’s hat-trick. For a goalkeeper that is a terrible thought.

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