Saturday, June 15, 2024

Euro Hockey 2023: England men reach first major final in 14 years as Germany beaten

Monchengladbach — With Paul Revington’s side down to 10 in the closing stages and a 9,000 home support baying Germany for yet another story of late heartbreak and toil at the death, the roles were reversed in dramatic, joyous scenes as James Mazarelo stood tall and put England men into their first major final for 14 years on Friday night.

Mazarelo knew he would be coming on for the shoot-out should he be called upon. And once Ollie Payne took his place on the bench, the Surbiton stopper tuned into the moment and saved Germany’s fifth shoot-out – after a peerless set of efforts from both teams – to set up a final clash with defending champions the Netherlands, who beat Belgium, on Sunday. 

Moreover, this 5-4 success from the 23 metre line cast aside the memories of January’s World Cup. There, the Grambusch brothers scored late as Germany stunned England to win on a shoot-out to herald Die Honamas’ fairytale journey to the title. No such luck here, with both host teams now playing for bronze. Further Mats Grambusch felt the hurt of missing the final shoot-out in his hometown. The deafening quiet sweeping across the near sell-out here told the story.

This victory came after a 0-0 draw over 60 minutes, England casting aside the madcap pool matches against Belgium and then Spain (where a combined nine goals had been scored in 11 minutes over two pinball, end-to-end periods) to put in a resolute defensive shift and deny Germany a fourth EuroHockey semi-final defeat in six editions against their rivals, who so often had fallen short of making tournament finals.

Standing in the way are the Dutch, masters of EuroHockey campaigns and chasing their fourth title in five. It will be some test for David Ames and co. But they will look to Friday night’s game with heightened confidence after this performance as the 2023 squad aim to match the 2009 team, Barry Middleton and Ashley Jackson included, which beat Germany – and the women’s title glory in London from 2015.

The hosts here had made good inroads down the left flank in the opening quarter, while the first backboard thud, ultimately disallowed, came from a move on the right. Justus Weigand started a breakdown counter, carried to the dotted line and quickly manoeuvred a free hit before Payne was beaten. But England successfully reviewed Wiegand taking the free from the wrong position. 

A tight first quarter, with Timm Herzbruch becoming an increasing presence, ended with Germany attempting to squeeze small opportunities in the English circle, the defence holding firm.

England upped the tempo in the second quarter when Zach Wallace received another hard slap from deep to central midfield. Moments later he was in the circle and got his shot away on the dive before John-Paul Danneburg’s excellent stick save to his right. England referred a late tackle on Wallace, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Germany were beginning to accrue corner chances. But there was Nick Park, growing with each tournament he plays, blocking and charging down Gonzalo Peillat’s drags. On their fourth, Peillat opted for the slip pass and England mounted another breakdown. 

England’s first corner saw Sam Ward given little chance to get his flick away thanks to Teo Hinrich’s pace. Their second was dealt with too, the DJ booth perhaps intervening with a poor fade out just as Nick Bandurak attempted his shot.

England had been notably card free at this Euros, but James Gall was handed their first five minutes into the third quarter as Germany, employing width, countered down the right. Germany hastily pursued circle penetration, Park blocking out a Peillat PC and then Payne blocking and seeing a reverse go high over the post.

The Sparkassen crowd was far from a cauldron atmosphere, England’s patient and battling display having certainly played its part. Any counters were being snaffled, however, with Phil Roper and James Oates passes easily intercepted.

Impatience saw Germany green carded, while captain Grambusch felt aggrieved after being cited for a high stick. As the third quarter ended, England thrust a deep ball into the circle, Will Calnan and Ward both in menacing positions. Ward could only faintly get a desperate touch towards the line as Peillat lifted off the line and suddenly we were 15 minutes from another shoot-out.

It was certainly niggly, even with Christopher Ruhr resting for this tournament. Shoulder tackles were going in, every fight being made for ball retention. Meanwhile, Ward had to briefly depart after a fizzing cross deflected into his shoulder. 

The shoot-out proved as dramatic as ever PIC: Worldsportpics

The tightrope tension was underpinned three minutes from time as the stadium fell quiet and Wallace dazzled in the circle. He weaved through three defenders but England couldn’t convert.

Just as in Bhubaneswar, England received a late card, this time to James Albery. Just as in India, Germany finished the stronger and Payne saved with a right-sided lunge. This time, England had staved off a last-gasp goal before the hooter. 

In the shoot-out, Alberry dropped his shoulder and reversed on the dive. Niklas Wellen went the same way but kept vertical. Wallace was ever so cool, going left again and reverse lifting.

After a brief delay (the ever calm umpire Coen van Bunge making sure the electronics were performing), Hannes Muller kept his cool to slot home. Another pause in proceedings did little to hamper Conor Williamson’s effort, calmly entering the circle and lifting home. 

Thies Prinz continued in the same style, as did Roper. It was 4-4 as Mazerelo slipped and Johanes Grobe passed into the net. David Ames then went hard from the top to keep England ahead. His opposite captain, Grambusch, then came forward and Mazarelo stood tall and took his opponent out too wide and saved low down to spark delirium. Total heartbreak for the hosts.

Total Hockey

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