Wednesday, February 21, 2024

EuroHockey 2023: England men win 4-3 epic to deny Spain

European Hockey Championships: England set up Germany semi-final, a repeat of 2021 event

Monchengladbach — Hockey fans in England have been forced to watch behind a paywall for this EuroHockey. Paul Revington’s side came up against a similar problem against Spain here in a quite remarkable match where England won 4-3 amid a spell of five goals in five minutes, three of those inside 45 seconds.  

Needing to win outright given both were level on points and Spain holding the upper hand on field goals scored, this final pool encounter for England proved a nerve-jangling affair, as Nick Park once again stood tall, James Gall enduring an all-action 60 minutes and PC variations proving pivotal against a robust and tight Spanish defence. Few could have imagined what played out in the third quarter here, however, with several players admitting to that spell as “hectic” and simply “chaotic”.

Max Caldas’ growing side looked to once again undo English hopes (this was the fourth Euros in a row where these two had met and with pool outcomes riding on it), having stopped GB short of winning the men’s Pro League a few months back. But Revington’s side trudged over the line amid rising afternoon temperatures and, tellingly, no cards all game which leaves England facing a likely semi-final showdown with Germany under the lights on Friday.

It was one-touch, give and go fare in a rapier-like opening to this final pool game. England had their first corner within 40 seconds (and ended the match clearing a last-gasp attack up field amid players leaping and hugging) before Xavier Gispert fed a dangerous ball across the circle and Borja Lacalle had two bites of the cherry from a tight angle. England defenders frantically slid in to cover.

Sam Ward celebrates in typical fashion PIC: WORLDSPORTPICS

With Spain beginning to take a stranglehold deep into the quarter they won their first PC when Marc Miralles tap volleyed on his stick before being obstructed by Brendan Creed. From the PC, Gispert fired a stinging low shot into the backboards.

James Oates, akin to his forehand drill against Austria, then had England’s first meaningful shot in a crowded circle, but went wide in the last main act of a physical opening.

There was no let up in the second quarter. Spain won three PCS in a row as English bodies flung themselves out from the line and Ollie Payne kept the castle hitters out.

England then conjured their best possession period as they attempted to unlock the tight Spanish defence. When Park meandered inside the 23m with a self pass move, he found Gall in the circle who was immediately felled. Bandurak arced high and central with his penalty stroke.

The physical nature of this match took hold in the third quarter when Enrique Gonzalez went to ground clutching his arm after a tackle with Will Calnan. Moments later, England were caught napping when Miralles controlled brilliantly on the touchline to keep the ball alive, weaved into the circle, beat Gall and fed Jose Basterra from the baseline. A killer goal.

England struck back for the second time when a PC reward saw Gall atone with a finely rehearsed move. He looked to trap at the top but moved centrally into the circle to get in line of Bandurak’s shot. Gall’s deflection arched high into the net.

A frenetic, seat-belts-fastened period ensued. Park found space for Jack Waller at the top of the D three minutes later and Ward netted with a reverse touch. At the other end, Miralles sent home a penalty stroke. With the next passage of play, Tom Sorsby turned lineman to PC scorer as England took the lead for the first time. Three goals in 43 seconds of game play. 

This was hardly a game conducive for searing afternoon temperatures, as England yearned to stifle continued Spanish heat. Sure enough, attacking sprints and turnover did relent in the final quarter. Zach Wallace nearly carved an opening out of nothing when the ball went loose in the circle before reversing across goal and hitting the far post. With four minutes’ left, Ward then tried a third man style dab from a whipped slap pass which went just wide.

Spain went to 11 outfielders for the last 90 seconds. They had two chances upfield, Ward going down inside the 23 to waste precious seconds. The sight of England clearing the ball upfield left the bench to celebrate uproariously. Not that many would have witnessed this epic outside of the hockey fraternity, in a match which deserved so many more eyeballs to be subscribed to back home.

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