Features

Hockey World Cup: France set for historic showdown with Australia

By Rod Gilmour, Bhubaneswar

Maximilien Branicki took a moment to compose himself following France’s crossover win over China.

The Frenchman will reach his 21st birthday on Sunday, the day of the World Cup final. And the way 2018 has gone in hockey’s World Cup year – Ireland women and all that – who’s to say that France can’t write their own annus mirabilis and Branicki left prescribing Monday remedies.

“We have one match against Australia. The journey is special and Australia are the best in the world and one of the favourites in the competition,” Branicki, who plays and studies in Brussels, said eventually. You could, of course, forgive his emotion. After a 28-year hiatus, France had made the last eight.

“Australia is better than us both physically, tactically, mentally. But it’s one match and anything is possible and we will do the best that we can.”

Australia are the top scorers in this World Cup, with 16. They have shipped one goal and are three matches away from an unprecedented World Cup hat-trick of titles. If France are to usurp the Kookaburras from the Kalinga’s blue turf, it will represent the greatest upset of them all.

“At this World Cup we can write a new story. We have a really good generation and we hope to put in a really good match,” said an upbeat Branicki. “There are a lot of parents and friends and it’s great to see French people here. We know we need to perform for our supporters.”

France held on against China to keep a clean sheet. Yet the ending was hardly French chic. There were four yellow cards, two from each nation, including a football, feet-first tackle on a Chinese forward which resulted in a last-ditch French PC save. The French, the world No 20, looked tired and the hooter yielded the start of 48 hours precious recovery.

Australia, with their days off and free from a crossover match, have instead been forced to play a 30-minute training game against Argentina.

Trent Mitton will mark his 150th cap for Australia against France in his first World Cup, a tournament featuring a host of debutants for the Kookaburras.

“There were certainly times where I thought I wouldn’t get close to this milestone, mainly through repeated non-selections earlier in my career,” said the 28-year-old.

“Being able to play the 150th in a World Cup quarter final is pretty special. It will be a big game and the crowd will be huge.”

Mitton debuted in 2010 but the India trip ushered in his first world or Olympic tournament. Watching the France-China match with the team on Monday, Mitton will now line up in his first quarter-final as they aim to follow the marvellous team of 2014 into the record books.

“We are looking forward to getting to the business end of the tournament,” added Mitton. Australia have got there with barely a whimper. For France, it may be a game too far.



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