Men's FIH Pro League 2019: Aussies win two in a row, Spain surprise Holland at home
Four weeks of spectacular action involving twelve matches played out between eight of the top sides in the world across two continents has resulted in memorable thrillers.
Aggressive and fast-paced hockey leading to quite a few exciting last-minute goals which have enthralled the crowds and set the stage for the display of some exciting new talent.
Shane McLeod, who won the FIH award for Male Coach of the Year, continues to guide the top-ranked Red Lions with aplomb, but the lower-ranked sides have made their presence felt early in the competition as the FIH Pro League shifts to South America for the first time next week.
The Red Sticks dazzle at Valencia
The massive crowds at Bhubaneswar were treated to some scintillating wizardry from the stick of Xavi Lleonart backed up with great energy from Enrique Gonzalez and Albert Beltran.
But the Spanish magic was cut short by giant-killers France who progressed to the knockouts of the World Cup at the expense of their European neighbours.
The lowest-ranked side at the Pro League began well as they held World Champions Belgium in their opener and won a bonus point as well for winning the shootout before losing a thriller to Great Britain by a narrow 5-6 margin.
On Friday, the Spanish seemed headed for certain defeat when they trailed the Netherlands by a 0-3 margin, but three goals in the space of sixteen minutes stunned the World Cup silver medalists who lost the bonus point too.
The Dutch, who had pulled off a near-impossible draw against Australia a couple of weeks back by scoring three goals in the final quarter, succumbed to some sustained pressure from Fred Soyez's side who were unlucky not to have scored earlier.
The Spanish made the most of a last-minute penalty corner as Mark Serrahima beat Visser in goal after Pau Quemada and Albert Beltran had scored one apiece to spoil the party for Max Caldas' boys at the Estadio Betero in Valencia.
To add insult to injury, the Spaniards won the shootout and now have four points from three matches while the Dutch have six from just as many games.
Both European teams will now travel to the southern hemisphere where the Dutch face Argentina in Buenos Aires next week while Spain takes on an on in-form Australian side a fortnight from now.
Australia taste success by defending the Belgian way
The Aussies may well be adopting Belgian methods with regard to zonal defending, as Jamie Dwyer mentioned, and the structural changes are certainly paying dividends for the former world champions who became the second side in the competition - after Great Britain, to notch up two wins in a row.
The Kookaburras who outplayed Germany by a 4-2 margin last Sunday followed up the good work by getting past old foes Great Britain by a 2-0 margin, and now have seven points from four matches, while the Belgian Red Lions lead the pack with nine points from as many matches.
Most teams are rotating players like never before keeping in mind the hectic schedule of the Pro League with some fresh talent making a splash on the world stage.
The sheer depth of the Dutch side has come to the fore at the Pro League, as Caldas sent a whole bunch of newbies onto the pitch including goalkeeper Maurits Visser and Terrance Pieters
Queensland striker Jacob Anderson excelled for Colin Batch's side by scoring twice against the Germans.
The 21-year-old who has a knack of getting into great positions in the striking circle also scored against the Brits, on Saturday, thus sounding a few warning bells for Australia's adversaries around the world.
The kookaburras were solid in defence against Great Britain who failed to score in spite of several forays up front which resulted in 18 circle penetrations.
Interestingly, Danny Kerry's side enjoyed a lion's share of the possession but could manage only three shots on goal to show for their efforts.
Despite the loss, Great Britain has six points from three matches and now have the benefit of a long break before taking on Argentina, at Rosario, on April 6.
New Zealand, meanwhile, went down to Germany, on Friday, and the 1-3 defeat meant that the Black Sticks are languishing second from the bottom, in the standings, with just one point from four matches, ahead of Argentina who has no points yet but has played just a single match.
The Germans who have three points from two matches will be keen to put it across Argentina next Friday - it will, indeed, be interesting to see if the league continues to enjoy the support of the crowds as the action moves to Buenos Aires.