Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WOMEN: New Zealand the bolters...

And then there were four. The Riverbank roar is all set to salute some of the world’s finest hockey as the women of New Zealand and the Netherlands (3.30pm) kick-start the final sprint for the medals before Great Britain and Argentina meet (8pm) in the second semi-final.
New Zealand offers a new element to proceedings, making it through to the final four for the first time in their Olympic history. Having finished 11th in Beijing, they came into the competition with a point to prove to themselves.
For the likes of Kayla Sharland, Krystal Forgesson, Emily Naylor and Gemma Flynn, China was a painful memory but they have provided the backbone to their emergence while players like Anita Punt and Charlotte Harrison have lit up this Games with their innovation and direct running.
How they fare against the world number ones and reigning champs, the Netherlands, will be a huge test of Mark Hager’s charges and their resolve. Five wins from five have revealed few weak points around the field.
Max Caldas will be concerned that Maartje Paumen’s direct shooting has yielded no corner goals but the variations are starting to function. Defensively, the side have dealt well with the absence of Willemijn Bos while Eva de Goede has shone in midfield throughout, leading the forward orchestra. There, Kim Lammers has led the line with four field goals, providing a powerful fulcrum to the front-line.
On the other side of the draw, Great Britain will hope to use the home support to full effect to get back the momentum that marked the initial phase of Pool A. Wiping out Japan, Korea and Belgium, they looked a formidable prospect, especially with Crista Cullen whipping home the drag-flicks – she shares the top-scorer mantle with Lammers.
But back-to-back 2-1 losses to China and the Dutch have tamed that rhythm to some extent. Kate Walsh has provided one of the stories of the Olympic Games, returning from a broken jaw inside six days to lead her side out in brave fashion, underpinning their defensive line.
Helen Richardson and Sarah Thomas are the creative sparks who will look to unlock the Argentina defence, led by Silvina d’Elia. For Las Leonas, the hunger is evident in their pursuit of a first ever-Olympic victory after a number of near misses. Their route to the semi-finals was a roller coaster from the moment they fell 1-0 to the USA, forced to endure a nervy 0-0 draw with Australia to eventually become the last side to reach the final four.
Totems Carla Rebecchi and Luciana Aymar have both provided a trio of goals each. For the latter, she has often been subject to a double-team, making space from midfield hard to come by but a couple of delightful penalty corner moves have aided her side’s progress.

MEN: Final London 2012 Pool Standings

Team Pld W D L GD Pts
Pool A
Australia  AUS 5 3 2 0 18 11
Great Britain  GBR 5 2 3 0 6 9
Spain  ESP 5 2 2 1 -2 8
Pakistan  PAK 5 2 1 2 -7 7
Argentina  ARG 5 1 1 3 -4 4
South Africa  RSA 5 0 1 4 -11 1
Pool B
Netherlands  NED 5 5 0 0 11 15
Germany  GER 5 3 1 1 3 10
Belgium  BEL 5 2 1 2 1 7
Korea  KOR 5 2 0 3 1 6
New Zealand  NZL 5 1 2 2 -4 5
India  IND 5 0 0 5 -12 0

Brits survive dramatic finale

Spain vs Great Britain: 1-1 (half-time: 0-1)

Great Britain became the fourth men’s semi-finalist at the expense of Spain in one of the most dramatic manners possible, overcoming a heart-stopping final minute of play. Needing only a draw to progress, the hosts were locked at 1-1 when Spain were twice awarded penalty corners only from umpire conferrals saw the decisions rightly over-turned, allowing GB to hold on for the result.
It left Spain distraught after a sterling fightback after Britain had held the upper hand for much of the first 55 minutes, taking the lead from Ashley Jackson’s fifth goal of the competition. But when Pau Quemada pulled his side level 15 minutes from time, it set up a grandstand finish that set the home hearts racing.
Jackson’s 33rd minute penalty corner gave Great Britain the first half ascendancy when Ramon Alegre conceded a soft penalty corner. Jackson drove low for his fifth goal of the tournament, taking a small nick en route to the backboard. Otherwise, it was an intense, physical tussle with both Pau Quemada and Edi Tubau green carded. It made for a tight, tentative affair but there was enough guile to carve out decent opportunities.
The first fell to Jackson off the back of James Tindall’s drag-flick but the British talisman’s snap-shot clattered only the outside of the goal. In response, Quemada and Tubau were putting in a huge stint while an innovative penalty corner saw James Fair in trouble, saved only by Iain Lewers diving clearance. Tindall and Martin tested Francisco Cortes a couple more times but Jackson’s drive remained the only difference between the sides at the break.
Spain, though, transformed from a placid half-press to a much higher press and almost instantly drew dividends when Tubau robbed Richard Smith’s loose pass. Fair blocked well, the first of a series of significant saves in the half. GB could have been out of sight in the 53rd minute from a manic third penalty corner, Iain Mackay bunting the ball off the crossbar while Barry Middleton and Jackson also had digs.
Within a minute, the momentum had shifted as Quemada found a low and true route past Fair and, from there, their need for the three points was accompanied by an all-out surge, winning a couple of corners before the controversial final minute. The stoppages dragged it out but GB held on and are now looking forward to a semi-final date with the Netherlands while Spain are destined for the fifth place play-off.
On a day of milestones, David Alegre played his 200th cap, Matt Daly his 150th; Iain Mackay in his 100th game and Iain Lewers lined out for GB for a 50th time.
(Stephen Findlater)

Australia vs. Pakistan: 7-0 (half-time: 4-0)

Anything could still happen in Pool A, with four teams in contention for a semi-final spot (Australia, Great Britain, Pakistan and Spain) depending on the results on this last day of pool play. But it took less than 5 minutes for Australia to put the contest out of doubt.
Australia were prompt to stake their claim on the match, earning a penalty-corner within 4 minutes of play. Liam De Young picked up the rebound from the goalkeeper after the initial shot by Christopher Ciriello and managed to slip the bouncing ball in goal in a narrow angle. Less than a minute later, Mark Knowles added an unstoppable penalty-stroke under the crossbar and Pakistan were suddenly looking into a two-goal deficit with the match hardly started.
Imran Shah was kept busy in the Pakistani goal, while it took a while for Nathan Burgers to see any action at the other end. Australia were pressuring the Pakistani midfield very high on the pitch, preventing their attempts to develop any attack and reducing them to try and use tentative high balls.
Christopher Ciriello added a goal on another penalty-corner late in the period, then a forth one after a poor clearance by the Pakistani defense, and the Australians went into the half-time break with a comfortable 4-goal lead while the Pakistani team seemed at a loss to find a solution to threaten the Australian circle.
The same pattern prevailed in second period, with Australia having immediately another chance on penalty-corner. Ciriello’s flick was this time way too high but it did not take long for Russell Ford to score the 5th Australian goal with a spectacular shot high in the opposite corner at the end of a long run. Jamie Dwyer added a 6th goal, Glenn Turner a last one, and there was not much that Pakistan could do to prevent the Kookaburas from cruising to spectacular 7-0 victory, establishing a +18 goal difference that pretty much insured them top spot in Pool A, as Great Britain would now have to score 13 goals against Spain to overtake them.
(Yan Huckendubler)

Argentina vs. South Africa: 6-3 (half-time: 2-2)

Argentina came back from a 2-goal deficit to severely punish South Africa (6-3) and leave them bottom of the group.
With both teams having three losses and a draw, they were out of contention for the semi-finals and playing to avoid bottom place. The contest was however heated from the start, with a green card to a South African player within a couple minutes of play.
South Africa drew first blood on a spectacular penalty-corner under the crossbar by Justin Reid-Ross, certainly one of the best corner flickers in this competition. They doubled their tally a few seconds later by Lloyd Norris-Jones from the field and Argentina were already looking at a steep uphill battle.
Facundo Callioni had a golden opportunity after a splendid pass from Agustin Mazzilli found him alone in the circle, but Erasmus Pieterse stood tall in the South African goal and thwarted his effort. Soon after Lucas Rossi was unlucky to hit the post after a decisive circle penetration, then Callioni failed again to beat Pieterse from close range before Gonzalo Peillat reduced the score on a penalty-corner in the 24th minute.
Both teams had other chances on penalty-corners before Lucas Rossi managed to catapult the ball in the roof of the net from a goal mouth scramble, levelling the score for Argentina. The score was tied at half-time (2-2), but Argentina had a better momentum after coming back in the match after their catastrophic start and Gonzalo Peillat added another penalty-corner, his second of the day, early in second period to give the lead to the South Americans in this lively contest.
Facundo Callioni deflected in goal a superb cross from Lucas Vila who had outrun the South African defense, then did it again soon after on a similar cross, this time from Agustin Mazzilli, and Argentina were suddenly in a very comfortable position with a 3-goal lead. The crowd were entertained by a flurry of goal in the final minutes. First Jonathan Robinson pulled back a goal for South Africa, then Gonzalo Peillat promptly re-established the 3-goal lead with his third penalty-corner goal of the match, a strong feat for the 19 year old playing in his first major competition.
With the win, Argentina finished 5th in pool A and will for 9th-10th on Thursday, while South Africa will play for 11th-12th on Saturday.
(Yan Huckendubler)

Dutch hand Germany semi-final pass

Korea vs. Netherlands: 2-4 (half-time: 0-2)

The Netherlands were already qualified for the semi-finals while Korea needed a win to have a slim hope of going through, depending on the result of Germany later in the day against New Zealand. But they were unable to set up that opportunity as the Dutch victory eliminated the Asian side with the Germans profiting.
First chances were for Rogier Hofman after ten minutes of play. Following a powerful shot, he picked up the rebound from the goalkeeper and had plenty of time to adjust a second shot, but Lee Myung Ho in the Korean goal was up to the task on both occasions. The teams were offering an enjoyable display of attacking hockey, with superior individual skills on both sides, and the crowd quickly warmed up in the chilly early morning.
The Netherlands earned a penalty-corner mid-way through the period and Mink Van Der Weerden slammed it in goal to open the scoring. Soon after, Valentin Verga surprised the Korean defense with a sudden shot from the top of the circle and the Dutch team appeared on their way to a comfortable fifth win. Korea was however not ready to give up yet. They had a series of penalty-corners in the final minutes of the period, but Jang Jong Hyun’s flicks were saved by Jaap Stockmann in the Dutch goal and the break was reached with the two goal gap.
Korea kept trying and had a few good chances early in second period, first for Lee Nam Yong on a ball rolling tantalizingly on the goal line behind Jaap Stockmann, then by Kim Young Jin who collected a long ball high behind the Dutch defense but failed to redirect it past Stockmann. Their hopes of coming back were dashed when Roderick Weusthof was fouled when progressing in the circle and converted himself the penalty-stroke to build a seemingly insurmountable 3-goal lead.
Nam Hyun Woo closed the gap on penalty-corner with still 16 minutes left in the period. He however injured himself delivering the flick and had to be taken away on a stretcher. Korea showed their depth in the exercise when Jang Jong Hyun was as impressive and efficient on the next penalty-corner chance, closing the gap to one goal. It was too close for comfort for The Netherlands and they promptly re-established their two-goal lead by Billy Bakker after a swift counter-attack that baffled the Korean defense.
With the win, The Netherlands finished unbeaten in the group stage and advanced to the semi-finals as winner of Pool B, while Germany were guaranteed a semi-final place at the expense of Korea.
(Yan Huckendubler)

Germany vs New Zealand: 5-5 (half-time: 2-4)

Christopher Zeller’s late goal condemned New Zealand to fifth place in Pool B, denying the black sticks who led the game for all of 63 minutes of an incredible tie.
Nick Wilson’s tip in and Richard Petherick’s penalty corner strike had New Zealand 2-0 inside six minutes before Oskar Deecke got one back just three minutes later. Zeller stung the base of the post from a corner soon after in an all-action opening salvo before a two-goal wedge was re-established when Ryan Archibald’s superb right-wing cross ended up on Stephen Jenness’s stick for a simple finish and 3-1.
Florian Fuchs replied was a nicely worked three-on-one move, passed around Kyle Pontifex but Simon Child closed out the half with his first goal on the half hour, calmly flipping home a corner rebound. His second, making it 5-2, came just 45 seconds into the second period, cracking home from the edge of the circle.
From there, though, Germany discovered their scoring touch. Thilo Stralkowski drove home a penalty corner and Zeller got the deficit down to one, finishing off another indoor-style move. And his last act was to flip home his side’s fifth goal from off the ground. It made little tangible difference for Germany who remain in second place and through to play Australia in the semi-final. They will fret over the health of captain Max Mueller who picked up a nasty thumb injury in the first half, not appearing for the duration of the second period.
But for New Zealand it means they are stuck in fifth and destined for the ninth/tenth playoff against Argentina rather than seventh against Pakistan. 
(Stephen Findlater)

 India vs Belgium: 0-3 (half-time: 0-1)

Belgium moved a big step closer to third spot in Pool B as they had the clinical edge India lacked to run up a misleading 3-0 scoreline as Vincent Vanasch was by far the busier goalkeeper on the day. Superb strikes from Jerome Dekeyser, Gauthier Boccard and Tom Boon – on his 100th international appearance – mean the Belgians have a shot at fifth place in the competition having already massively improved on their pre-tournament ranking of 11th.They kept third spot by virtue of New Zealand's draw with Germany in the day's final game.
Dekeyser started the scoring in brilliant fashion in the 15th minute, racing onto Felix Denayer’s through ball, finishing first time with a rocket over Bharat Kumar Chetri’s shoulder. India’s vitality on the counter attack should have yielded a couple of goals in response. Standing in their way, though, was the superb Vincent Vanasch while Shivendra Singh clipped the outside of the post.
While Indian chances went astray, Belgium snapped up their half-chances and Boccard profited from a superb piece of umpiring from Nigel Iggo. He held his whistle after Boon seemed to have earned a penalty corner, and the 20-year-old Boccard fired home through a narrow opening. And Boon closed out the win after more Vanasch heroics with two minutes to go with an excellent, low reverse-stick shot. 
India end the pool phase with five losses from five and will now play South Africa for eleventh place on Saturday at 8.30am.
(Stephen Findlater)