By The Hockey Paper, Bhubaneswar
England will hope to halt Argentina’s world title hopes with aerial prowess in Wednesday’s World Cup quarter-final.
Danny Kerry’s side face the Olympic champions for a place in their third successive semi-final against a side they last beat in 1998 and at a World Cup 32 years agowhen they last reached the final.
At the 2014 World Cup, Argentina fielded 12 men for two minutes as England lost out in a bronze medal play-off.
Protests came and went and now they will aim to let their hockey do the talking at the 15,000-capacity Kalinga Stadium.
England have shown their own title credentials in the last two games here where defender Liam Sanford has risen to the occasion.
Sanford, who debuted last year, was awarded man-of-the-match against New Zealand thanks to strong running and posing an aerial threat, tellingly with England’s first goal.
“I’ve latched on to a couple of them and he has put in some great aerial bombs,” said Phil Roper, England’s co-captain. “He has one of the best aerials in the game right now.”
Sanford has taken flight down the right flanks like he has with his off-field career in the Forces.
The 22-year-old’s entry into England’s hockey ranks has come at the expense of his job as an RAF flight operations assistant.
Dealing with Argentina’s creativity sounds a walk in the park compared to Sanford’s work in air traffic control towers with the RAF.
He said: “It’s like hockey can be on the pitch where it can be be a high-stress environment. But they have really good managers who can deal with stress and the operations team is excellent.”
Sanford, who is RAF sportsperson of the year, clearly loves the team environment.
“When we stick with each other as a team we are a lot calmer on the ball,” added Sanford.
“When it gets a tight, you can sometimes get on each other’s backs, which is only natural as we all want to do well.”
England head into their clash with an edge over Argentina, having played a brace of games since Los Leones’ last match.
Argentina were even forced to play a 30-minute training game against Australia on Monday to replicate some form of match play.
Argentina lost 5-3 to France in their final Pool game last week which Gonzalo Peillat, their best player, on Tuesday called a “wake up call”.
“We were a bit disappointed but it was a punch in the face for us before we face England,” Peillat told The Hockey Paper.
“We weren’t playing well and it [defeat] will give us confidence.”
Meanwhile, Roper was confident with England’s tournament tempo – getting better with every match.
“We are starting to build something. We are having fun and playing our game,” said Roper.
“We’ve played two games and they’ve had a week off, but we don’t know how it will pan out.”