Bhubaneswar, Dec 10: England and France were triumphant on the first day of the knock-out phase of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup, sealing their places in the competition quarter-finals with victories over New Zealand and China respectively.
England’s triumph against the Black Sticks sets up a quarter-final clash against Olympic champions Argentina, the team that defeated them in the bronze medal match at the 2014 World Cup in The Hague four years ago.
For France, their success against China means that the competition’s lowest ranked team must now face a quarter-final meeting against the event’s highest, with reigning world champions Australia being their opponents in the last eight.
England arguably had the better of the first period against New Zealand that was short on genuine goal-scoring opportunities, with England goalkeeper George Pinner stepping out to deny Hugo Inglis while New Zealand shot-stopper Richard Joyce made a comfortable glove save from Mark Gleghorne’s penalty corner drag-flick.
England took the lead in the second quarter thanks to a close-range finish from Will Calnan, although the undisputed architect was Phil Roper, who escaped his marker before bursting into the circle and coolly lifting the ball over Joyce for Calnan to force home at the back post.
That advantage was almost doubled when Liam Ansell’s strike flew just wide of the target before New Zealand’s Nick Ross stung the pads of Pinner with a ferocious volley from the top of the circle, giving Danny Kerry’s team a timely reminder that this match was far from over.
Stephen Jenness came close to levelling the scores on three occasions in the third quarter, but it was England who doubled the advantage a minute before the end of the period to make life increasingly difficult for the Black Sticks. A penalty corner from Adam Dixon rattled the right post before Luke Taylor smashed home the follow-up to put England firmly in control of the match.
New Zealand replaced their goalkeeper with an outfield player in the latter stages, but England’s defence held firm to secure a berth in the competition quarter-finals.
When asked about how it feels to reach the last eight of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, Phil Roper said, “It feels absolutely amazing. This was a really tough game again. We’re starting to build some momentum. First a really good performance against Ireland and now a pretty good performance against the Kiwis who are a really, really tough side. We’re delighted to come away with a clean sheet and score a couple of good goals.”
Looking ahead to the match-up against Argentina, Roper was cautiously optimistic.
“Obviously they’re a really good team, but we’re very excited”, said Roper, who today wore the captain’s armband. “As I said, we’ve built a momentum. We’ve played two games while they’ve been resting so maybe we’re building something. It will be a tough game but we’re starting something and we’re really enjoying it.” (UNI)