Tuesday, July 16, 2024

England men charge to Commonwealth Games hockey bronze, third in a row

Birmingham — After the brawl came the backs to the wall as England men negated a South African onslaught to muster their own attacking flair and secure a third Commonwealth Games bronze in a row.

Four goals in seven, end-to-end minutes in the first half threatened to turn this bronze medal match into hockey’s own Xbox game. In the end, it was left to Phil Roper to produce the joystick flair with two second-half goals as England twice came from behind to beat South Africa 6-3.

The part-timers had never beaten England in 10 meetings. But in their 2022 squad they now have an all-attacking unit and several rising stars of the game – and this represented their best chance of a first medal.

An open, frantic encounter, with a bit of needle thrown in, saw a rampant South Africa produce some flowing, direct moves – there were double saves from both goalkeepers at either end – and deservedly took the lead when Matt Guise-Brown dispatched an 18th minute PC. 

A minute later, Rhys Smith found himself on the baseline with team-mates waiting like sharks in the circle. Shuffling with his back to goal and going through two defenders, one with a nutmeg, his shot went under Gowan Jones. It was his first international goal and he was mobbed in the moment.

The first card of this bronze match went to Smith and, with England down to 10, South Africa countered and scored through Mustapha Cassiem.

England’s equaliser (four goals in as many minutes) came when Liam Ansell created space to his right to fire in a low forehand. The goalfest continued when Sam Ward struck, again low, as England took the lead for the first time.

BIRMINGHAM – Commonwealth Games 2022 26 England v South Africa ((3rd – 4th place) Picture: Rhys Smith celebrates COPYRIGHT WORLDSPORTPICS ADY KERRY

That was until 47 seconds left of the first half, an unmarked Nqobile Ntuli deflecting in from South Africa’s seventh penalty corner.

There was a predictable dip in pace in the third quarter, the game hinging on one momentary touch of brilliance.

It came from Roper.

After Jones blocked an England corner, Ward deflected to goal, with the ball bouncing out towards the stop of the circle. Roper, one of England’s standouts, was there to smash in a knee high volley and shot on the run. 

Bronze looked to be secured when Roper was credited with his second in a goalmouth melee as the ball inched over the line, before captain Zach Wallace slotted home from a last-minute penalty stroke. 

At the hooter, Wallace, who was crestfallen in defeat to Australia in the semi-finals, jumped into Ollie Payne’s arms. It was his first major medal after four years in the squad, his first after taking over as captain.

Total Hockey

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