Bhubaneswar, India: It was another cracking day of action at the Odisha Men’s Hockey World League Final Bhubaneswar 2017, with the finishing positions in Pool B being settled thanks to the results of two pulsating matches at the Kalinga Stadium.
Germany finished first in the pool thanks to a 2-0 win over host nation India, while England’s 2-2 draw against Australia was enough for them to take second place ahead of reigning the world and Hockey World League champions, who finished third in the standings. The teams will now have to wait until the conclusion of Pool A on Tuesday 5th December before learning who they will face in the quarter-final crossovers.
On the occasion of Barry Middleton’s 400th senior international appearance, England (FIH Hero World Ranking: 7) claimed a creditable draw with Australia (WR: 2) - the third draw in three games for the Kookaburras.
England were the better team in the early stages of the opening quarter and deserved the lead that they established four minutes into the contest, with Liam Ansell forcing home from close range. It proved to be something of a wake-up call for the Kookaburras, who came roaring back into the contest but were denied an equaliser thanks to some outstanding defensive work from the European bronze medallists.
The leveller eventually arrived in three minutes into the third quarter through Dylan Wotherspoon, who slapped home from close range after being supplied by a perfect pass from Matt Swann, who was later named Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities. Eight minutes later it was 2-1 to Australia, who made full use of a video referral to win a penalty corner that was despatched with precision and power by Blake Govers, guiding a low flick into the bottom right corner of the English goal.
Remarkably, England hit back with six minutes of the match remaining thanks to Phil Roper, who was on hand to volley into the roof of the Australian goal to steal a share of the points. Despite there being no further goals, Australia came within a fraction of snatching the win when they rattled the frame of the English goal not once but twice with an overtime penalty corner, which was a fitting end to a breathless game of hockey.
“Every year it seems to get quicker and harder when I just want it to get slower, but it was a great game and result for us”, said Barry Middleton, one of the highest capped players in the history of the sport, before making reference to Australia hitting the post twice in the overtime penalty corner. “It is nice to come out of it with a point when you have one like that on the buzzer. We probably need to be a bit calmer in the last few minutes to make sure we don’t give penalty corners away, and try to play as if it is the first 15 minutes. We rode our luck on the last corner and got away with it, but nice to come away with a point.”
When asked about his feelings on reaching such an incredible milestone, Middleton said: “It tells me that I’m old, mostly. It is not really something I’m thinking about right now, it is more something I’ll look back on in the future and realise what it is then. I know it is something that when I am older I’ll look back on and be really proud about.”
The Australia-England result meant that a win, draw or even a narrow loss for Germany (WR: 5) in their match against India (WR: 6) would be enough for them to finish top of the pool. For the host nation there was everything to play for if they were to avoid a fourth place finish and a meeting against the winners of Pool A that came with it.
A packed and rowdy Kalinga Stadium certainly enjoyed India’s first quarter performance, with the home favourites playing with great energy despite being starved of possession by the Germans. India were also good in the second quarter, but they found themselves trailing 2-0 thanks to some clinical finishing from Germany. Team captain Martin Häner netted a penalty corner with his team’s first shot on target before Mats Grambusch’s deflected effort deceived Indian shot-stopper Akash Chikte to double the advantage.
While India had chances in the third and fourth quarters, Germany were outstanding in defence and always seemed in control of the contest to end their pool campaign with seven points from a possible nine. Germany’s opponents in the quarter-finals will be the team that finishes fourth in Pool A, while Pool B fourth place finishers India will take on the winners of Pool A in the knock-out phase.
" It was fantastic playing India, I’ve never played in front of such a big crowd”, said Germany’s Mats Grambusch, who was named Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities. “It is good to win the pool but there are four amazing teams in the other pool and we know that anything can happen in the quarter-finals.”
The competition continues on Tuesday 5th December with the final two matches in Pool A, which will both bring the pool phase to a close and settle the line-up for the competition quarter-finals. Olympic champions Argentina face Spain at 1730 Indian Standard Time (UTC: +5.30) before pool leaders Belgium take on European champions the Netherlands at 1930, the latter being a rematch of the gold medal match at the Rabo EuroHockey Championships 2017 in Amsterdam.
RESULTS – DAY 4
Pool B: Australia 2, England 2.
Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities: Matthew Swann (AUS)
Junior Player of the Match, presented by ONGC: Liam Sanford (ENG)
Pool B: India 0, Germany 2.
Man of the Match, presented by Odisha New Opportunities: Mats Grambusch (GER)
Junior Player of the Match, presented by ONGC: Johannes Große (GER)