Rourkela — In the evening haze, England showed their mettle in the Steel City to record their best opening to a men’s World Cup as they thwarted Wales’ bid for a history-making feat of their own. After a good luck tweet from Buckingham Palace, England certainly put on a royal show here in Rourkela.
Wales never recovered from the hammer blow of conceding inside 35 seconds, England ruling the roost in midfield and attacking with aplomb, Liam Ansell reprising memories of his brute strength from Bhubaneswar four years ago, while there was a blazing strike from England’s own Sheffield steel, Phil Roper, who netted a sublime backhand.
This result trumped the 5-3 defeat of Belgium 50 years ago and sets up a delicious Sunday evening encounter with India, who beat Spain 2-0. From the moment Dave Goodfield sent a looping aerial into the path of Sam Ward, this was England’s early evening.
This was also the hors d’oeuvre to host nation India’s first outing at this World Cup. Like most Indian crowds waiting for their heroes, the atmosphere ramping up whenever either side – there was little to cheer from a Welsh perspective – ventured into the circle.
And they didn’t have to wait long. In England’s first attack, Ward took possession to the baseline before finding Nick Park, who was engulfed by team-mates after netting a first international goal. Nick Bandurak, with his family in attendance, then shot and spun on the turn in the ninth minute, the ball scuffing the wrong side of the post.
Paul Revington’s side had a wealth of first-half penalty corners – 10 in the opening 30 minutes – only one of which was converted through Ansell on a castle switch after good work from Welsh keeper Toby Reynolds-Cotterrill. This, noted Revington afterwards, coupled with calm circle entry finishing, will be looked at on Saturday.
In the second quarter, a push pass from England’s fourth PC found Tom Sorsby midway up the circle, his stick deflection finding the same side as Bandurak’s earlier strike.
England were, though, getting closer and breaking freely from midfield, Zach Wallace whacking the turf in distaste after a 20-yard run finished with his shot blazing over the bar.
England’s breathing space came courtesy of Ansell’s unyielding stick power in a 10-minute double strike either side of the break. First in the second quarter and then slotting home into the backboard in the third, which signalled the end of Wales’ first bid to beat top 10 opposition here.
Wallace had a chance for England’s fourth with five minutes remaining when England were awarded a penalty stroke but having sent Reynolds-Cotterrill the wrong way, he flicked the wrong side of the post.
It was not a crucial miss from England’s usually reliable spot taker. Before the quarter was out, more central running left Roper to opt for a reverse strike at the top of the D. It was dispatched with typical skill from the Wimbledon forward, the goal standing after a referral for being struck outside the circle.
Bandurak netted a fifth as the game petered out. Of course he did – it was his 12th in seven games. Yet Wales ended the stronger of the two sides. Small comfort maybe, but as their coach Danny Newcombe reminded us afterwards, this is a ‘resilient and robust’ side.