As all the men’s teams have now played at least one game, the pools are starting to shape up!
Match 3: England 5 (L Ansell, P Roper, Z Wallace, C Griffiths, J Gall) Russia 0
Five second-half goals saw England power clear of Russia after a scoreless first half in men’s Pool A’s opening contest
It was a tight and physical first half with England on top but unable to get the crucial touches while Russia’s long game caused plenty of problems. Indeed, the Russians were the only side to earn corners in the opening period and Ollie Payne need to provide a big boot to clear away a strong chance.
But the second half was one-way traffic as Liam Ansell broke the deadlock two minutes after main interval, a deft flick on his backhand past Ivan Ozherelev.
Ansell laid on the crucial pass for the second within a minute, receiving a huge aerial pass in behind the Russian defence and Phil Roper was on hand to push home through the goalkeeper’s defences.
Starman Zach Wallace got the third with a thunderous reverse-stick shot just before the end of the third quarter. Chris Griffiths extended the scoring further with a mid-circle flick after Jack Waller made the inroads down the right baseline.
James Gall completed the five-star win with seven minutes left; afterwards, Roper was please with how his side improved as the game progressed.
“The Russians are known for being a pretty good, physical side and there were the usual pre-game nerves ahead of a massive tournament,” he said.
“We are glad in that second half we started to really click and play some exciting hockey to get the win. The ball started sticking in the second half; we started to get the link-ups that we are always trying and thankfully played some exciting hockey and got the ball in the back of the net but also we were really good defensively.
England – Russia 5-0 (0-0)
32’ 1-0 Liam Ansell (FG)
33’ 2-0 Phil Roper (FG)
44’ 3-0 Zach Wallace (FG)
47’ 4-0 Chris Griffiths (FG)
53’ 5-0 James Gall (FG)
Match 4: Belgium 4 (T Boon 2, A Hendrickx, C Charlier) Spain 2 (J Basterra, X Lleonart)
Tom Boon marked his 300th international cap in style as he scored twice to see reigning champions Belgium come back from a goal down to beat Spain 4-2 in a rematch of the 2019 Euro final.
“We started alright and possession for a long time,” Boon surmised on the game. “We were waiting for those moments and they finally happened. We are really happy to be here and really happy with the win.”
They are looking to add another title to the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 Euros, a series of success which was a long time coming for the Red Lions.
“The last few years have been pretty ok. We waited a lot to get to those medals, finally getting there but now I think we have the team to compete for gold every tournament. We were far from our best level so we will keep working and those good moments coming.”
Spain took advantage of an extra man in just the seventh minute as Cedric Charlier spent time in the sin-bin. Seven seconds after he departed, Ricardo Sanchez provided the perfect cross for José Basterra to deflect in the opening goal.
The lead was short-lived, however, as Alexander Hendrickx’s brute force from a corner put the Red Lions back on terms. It remained that way until half-time as Sebastien Dockier was just unable to cash in from a great chance in the second quarter.
Boon, though, did have them in front early in the second half, sweeping in a corner rebound after a combination of goalkeeper and defensive foot kept out another Hendrickx corner drag.
And Charlier atoned for his earlier indiscretion in the best way possible, brilliantly taking on a long ball about 40 metres out from the Spanish goal. He twisted and turned and eventually unleashed a forehand rocket past Quico Cortes.
Boon whipped in another corner in the 50th minute to put the Belgians well clear. Spain reduced the gap thanks to a Xavi Lleonart penalty stroke but the reigning champions were comfortably clear.
Belgium – Spain 4-2 (1-1)
7’ 0-1 José Basterra (FG)
9’ 1-1 Alexander Hendrickx (PC)
33’ 2-1 Tom Boon (PC)
45’ 3-1 Cédric Charlier (FG)
50’ 4-1 Tom Boon (PC)
54’ 4-2 Xavi Lleonart (PS)
Match 5: France 2 (B Marqué, P van Straaten) Wales 3 (O Dolan-Gray, G Furlong, J Naughalty)
Joe Naughalty’s last-minute winner gave Wales a dramatic victory over France following a wild, end-to-end battle, boosting their chances of reaching the semi-finals.
He admitted it was not his cleanest ever strike but was thrilled for his team to produce the goods on the European stage as they did two years ago.
“Great game! We are all a bit tired now,” Naughalty said. “Lots going on at the end but really important we kept our cool, kept playing our game and managed to sneak it at the end.
“[The last corner] is one we have used before and we know it is there! Gareth put it on the spot for me; I didn’t quite catch it properly but it went into the corner anyway and I am not going to complain.”
The tie got off to a rip-roaring with France racing into the lead after five minutes only for Wales to hit back and lead 2-1 after just 10 minutes.
Benjamin Marqué started the scoreboard ticking when Viktor Lockwood’s left wing skills worked the opening; Pieter van Straaten’s first shot was blocked but the youngster was on hand to tap in.
Owain Dolan-Gray equalised with a swift movement, latching onto a half-hit shot on the spin to find the corner. Gareth Furlong completed the early flurry of goals with a trademark corner.
From there, the game was played with passion and aggression with chances galore as play swung from end-to-end with both sides pushing for a result to keep their semi-final and possible World Cup chances going.
Furlong scooped another French chance off the line as they threw everything into attack.
They did get back to 2-2 with 12 minutes to go as Timothée Clement’s cracking long pass was tipped over the goalkeeper by Marqué and van Straaten was available to tap the ball just before it crossed the line.
Wales were soaking up a lot of pressure as they endured a couple of cards but they summoned one last big attack in the closing minute from which a slip move to Naughalty deceived the French defence to nestle in the corner, 3-2 with 55 seconds to go.
It was not quite the end of the drama, however, as France won a corner but an attempted sliding touch at the right post was adjudged to be an offensive foul, and Wales could celebrate their win.
Naughalty added he felt his side got things tactically right: “We know what’s good about our press and we know our structure really well. If we stayed patient and let them move it, our structure would be solid and we would win it back and be able to counter.
“It was tough with Covid and us not being a full-time team like most here. We’ve just got to trust our systems. We have all put hard work in for when it comes down to these games. It was really well done by our boys to be able to keep going until that final whistle.”
France – Wales
5’ 1-0 Benjamin Marqué (FG)
6’ 1-1 Owain Dolan-Gray (FG)
10’ 1-2 Gareth Furlong (PC)
48’ 2-2 Pieter van Straaten (FG)
60’ 2-3 Joe Naughalty (PC)
Umpires: S Edwards (ENG), M Pontus (BEL)
All games will be streamed on www.eurohockeytv.org (GEO blocking in Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales)
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