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Bhubaneswar, India: France, the lowest ranked team competing at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, stunned the hockey world on Day Nine, defeating Olympic champions Argentina to seal a second-place finish in Pool A just behind the Pan American giants.
A 5-3 victory for France against Los Leones was undisputedly the biggest shock of the competition so far, upsetting the FIH Hero World Rankings both in terms of the result and the effect on the final standings in the pool, with the European side finishing above higher-ranked New Zealand on goal difference and eliminating neighbours Spain from the competition.
Spain (WR: 8) started the day two points behind opponents New Zealand (WR:9) but established a commanding 2-0 lead going into half time. Albert Beltran’s backhand shot flew into the roof of the New Zealand goal after just nine minutes, with the advantage being doubled by a close-range effort from Alvaro Iglesias two minutes before the end of the second quarter.
New Zealand had a mountain to climb, but they proved worthy of the challenge. Following a scoreless third quarter, Hayden Phillips produced a moment of magic to drag his team back into the game, smashing into the top comer with nine minutes remaining. Sensing the come-back was on, Black Sticks Head Coach Darren Smith replaced his goalkeeper with an outfield player to increase the pressure on the Europeans. It works wonders, with Kane Russell scoring a low penalty corner drag-flick to move New Zealand up to second in the pool.
“It’s a pretty good feeling in the end, but we probably didn’t control the game too well”, said goal-scorer Kane Russell. “We were struggling to create opportunities and their defence was really sound. The goal we scored and then taking our goalie off gave us a little bit of momentum.”
For Spain, the draw against the Black Sticks moved them temporarily into third in the table, a point ahead of France (WR:20, who needed to get a result against Olympic champions and Pool A winners Argentina (WR:2) if they were to progress into the knockout stages. A win for France was enough for a second-place finish, but with an 18-place difference in the World Rankings, it was always going to be a big ask. However, the crowd at the Kalinga Hockey Stadium were in for a treat as the lowest ranked team in the competition produced something verging on the unbelievable.
France stormed into a stormed into a 4-1 half time lead against their illustrious opponents, with Hugo Genestet, Victor Charlet, Aristide Coisne and Gaspard Baumgarten on target for the Europeans, with Lucas Martinez scoring for Los Leones. It was a fantasy half-time score-line for France, putting them within touching distance of a remarkable second place finish in the pool and would subsequently eliminate Spain from the competition.
Although the lead held by France was a commanding one, Argentina have proven many times down the years that they are capable of coming back from unlikely positions. Gonzalo Peillat’s low penalty corner just before the end of the third quarter gave the South Americans hope, setting up a very exciting final quarter.
Another ferocious penalty corner drag-flick from Peillat made it 4-3 at the start of the fourth period, but it was France who had the last say when Francois Goyet deflected home to seal an extraordinary 5-3 victory to move into the cross-over play-offs as the second placed finisher in Pool A.
It’s really amazing, an incredible game for us”, said Odisha Player of the Match Hugo Genestet after the match. “I think the first half was almost perfect, although we stepped down a little bit after half time. They scored with one of the best drag flickers in the world, but out fifth goal was really cool, arriving at a good moment. We know we can beat every team in this competition, but 5-3 against the Olympic champion and to finish second in the pool, it’s incredible.”
Despite the result, it was a milestone day for Argentina’s Agustin Mazzilli, who made his 200thsenior international appearance for Los Leones.
On Friday 7th December, the final matches in Pool B will take place. Australia (WR:1), already confirmed as winners of this pool, take on undefeated China (WR:17) at 1700 IST (UTC +5.30) before Ireland (WR:10) and England (WR6) meet at 1900. China currently sit second in the pool with two points, while Ireland and England sit third and fourth respectively, level on points but separated by goal difference. The pool winner will earn a direct ticket to the quarter finals, while the teams that finish second and third will go into the cross-over play-offs. The team that finishes fourth will be eliminated from the competition.
Assessing Australia’s fine start at the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, Kookaburras defender Matthew Swann – a member of the World Cup winning squads from Delhi 2010 and The Hague 2014 – said: “Two wins, we’re sitting pretty at the moment in our pool. We’re happy with that but we know it’s a long road to go. There’s a lot of good competition ahead of us. We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. There’s a lot of work to do. We’re hopefully going to keep building from the England game.”
Speaking ahead of his team’s head-to-head with Ireland, England co-captain George Pinner said: “I was really pleased with large parts of our performance last match [against Australia]. We stuck to the game plan and were very much in the game. The final score-line [3-0 defeat] is frustrating but I think there are lots of positives for us to build on and take into the final group game. The Ireland match is a big game, but we have been in this position before. We will do everything we can to prepare properly both mentally and physically to give ourselves the best chance of progressing.”
Ireland Head Coach Alexander Cox said: “The game against England is very important, as it was always going to be, for both sides. We know what we need to do and are entirely focused on that. We have nothing to lose against England”.
The Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018 takes place between 28 November and 16 December. The Men’s World Cup is played every four years. For all information regarding the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, including the full schedule, teams, news and more, click here.
Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018
Day 8 Results – 6 December 2018: Pool A
Spain 2, New Zealand 2
Odisha Player of the Match: Josep Romeu (ESP)
Argentina 3, France 5
Odisha Player of the Match: Hugo Genestet (FRA)