Bhubaneswar, Nov 30: The third day of competition at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup saw Australia make a winning start to their title defence, while 17th ranked China claimed a stunning draw against England as the first Pool B matches of the competition were played.
The Australia versus Ireland match was a fascinating encounter, with the Green Machine producing a fine performance against the title holders.
Australia took a 1-0 lead in the contest when Blake Govers launched a powerful penalty corner drag-flick beyond Ireland 'keeper David Harte 11 minutes into the game, but it was a lead destined not to last.
Ireland stunned the Kookaburras in the second period when a high-quality attack was finished beautifully by Shane O’Donoghue, who produced terrific 3D skills to find a way past Aussie shot-stopper Andrew Charter.
Australia marked the start of the third quarter in style, with Corey Weyer’s stunning, defence-splitting pass from midfield being finished at the second attempt by Odisha Player of the Match Tim Brand, who had shown incredible athleticism to join the attack from defence.
It proved to be the decisive blow, with Australia showing all of their class to control the latter stages of the match and get their World Cup title defence off to a winning start.
Match-winner Brand, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Thursday, said, “We played very well but so did Ireland. Great crowd and I couldn’t have asked for anything better to celebrate my birthday. England is our next game and they’re always a tough opposition.
They’re a great team. They’re all quality. We’ll do our homework and hopefully get the win.”
“We always knew it was going to be a tough game, playing the world number one in the first game of the World Cup”, said Ireland’s Jonathan Bell after the match.
“I think we put in a great performance, obviously didn’t get the result, but by and large I thought we executed our game plan pretty well so we can be proud of that. We still have a lot of improvements to make before a big game against China on Tuesday,” he said.
The day’s other Pool B match saw England facing a China side that sits ten places below them in the FIH Hero World Rankings. Remarkably, it was the team from Asia that took the lead against a nation that has finished fourth in the two most recent editions of the World Cup, with Guo Xiaoping showing superb skills along the backline before flicking above right arm the onrushing George Pinner and into the goal just five minutes into the contest.
England responded well, with Mark Gleghorne’s 14th minute penalty corner drag-flick levelling the scores after a strong passage of play from the Europeans.
Two goal-less quarters followed, leaving China 15 minutes away from claiming the most surprising result of the competition so far. That all changed in the 48th minute when Liam Ansell stole possession from a China defender before unleashing a stunning backhand strike into bottom corner to give England a 2-1 lead.
However, there was to be one final twist in the tale. With less than two minutes remaining, China scored a dramatic equaliser thanks to a powerful penalty corner drag-flick from Du Talake, whose effort found a way into the England goal to give the competition’s second lowest ranked team a terrific point in their first ever World Cup match.
The action continues on Day Four Saturday, with the teams in Pool D finally getting their respective campaigns underway.
The Netherlands take on Malaysia, a team now coached by one of their most famous tacticians in the shape of Roelant Oltmans, at 1700 hours, Germany face Pakistan at 1900 hours.
Speaking ahead of the Malaysia match, Netherlands coach Max Caldas said, “At every tournament playing your first match is always difficult. We haven’t played Malaysia for several years, so it’s difficult to say what to expect. But we have done our homework and studied the team well."
"We respect the team of Malaysia. We are confident for our match tomorrow, but we also know we have to play a good match to beat them. We’re enjoying being in India. The pitches are good, the stadium is impressive, and the people are very friendly and helpful. Now we want to enjoy the tournament,” he said.
Germany captain Martin Haner expressed his excitement about his team’s opening fixture against Pakistan.
“It’s great to play against a team with such a great history again. I haven’t played against Pakistan for quite a while and it is always a challenge to play against such skillful players. We cannot wait to play in the Kalinga Stadium again in front of a hockey loving crowd. It’s always special to start the first match of a big tournament.
We’ve had a good preparation and we’re confident that we are ready for a great opener against Pakistan,” Haner said. (UNI)