**Bhubaneswar:** England and France were triumphant on the first day of the knock-out phase of the Odisha Hockey Men’s World Cup Bhubaneswar 2018, 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 (FIH Hero World Ranking: 7) 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 (WR:9) 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.”
France (WR:20) and China (WR:17) started this World Cup as the lowest ranked teams in the competition, but both had made it through to the knock-out stages of the event. Neither wanted their journey to end here, but it was fate awaiting one of these nations.
The two teams came into this match on the back of very different results, with France having stunned Olympic champions Argentina with a 5-3 victory while China were crushed 11-0 by reigning world champions Australia. Despite those outcomes, the early stages of this match were far closer than many had predicted, with China’s defensive line being particularly impressive.
The match remained score-less in the second quarter, although France certainly had the better chances with Blaise Rogeau twice going close and Etienne Tynevez hitting the left post of the China goal with an angled deflection.
Shortly after China’s E Wenhui forced a save from France goalkeeper Arthur Thieffry in the early stages of the third quarter, Les Bleus finally broke the deadlock thanks to a true striker’s finish from Nicolas Clemont, who guided Maximilien Branicki’s cross-shot into the China goal. China responded immediately by winning a penalty corner, but the attempt on goal from Du Talake was deemed dangerous after hitting France defender Victor Charlet on the knee.
China had two penalty corner opportunities to pull themselves level in the final quarter, but it was not to be. France, the lowest ranked team in the competition, were into the quarter-finals, much to the delight of Head Coach Jeroen Delmee.
“I’m really happy with the performance”, said former Netherlands international Delmee. “Offensively we did very well, but just failed to score [goals] two and three, and we were a bit unlucky also with the ball hitting the post, but the most important thing for us is to win. To be ranked number 20 and to reach the top eight is an amazing achievement for the team.”
Looking ahead to a quarter-final meeting against title holders Australia, Delmee said: “Now we have another big opponent. We beat the Olympic champion and maybe we can beat the world champion, but it may be a different story. We will prepare as best we can and hopefully we can perform another very good match with our team.”
France’s Viktor Lockwood was named as the Odisha Player of the Match on the occasion of his 100th senior international appearance.
The final two cross-over play-off matches take place on 11 December, with Belgium (WR:3) taking on Pakistan (WR:13) at 16:45 IST (UTC +5.30) with the winner playing Germany in the quarter-finals. The 1900 match will be contested between Netherlands (WR:4) and Canada (WR:11), with the winner setting up a quarter-final clash against host nation India (WR:5).