Hockey World Cup 2018: Reliving 5 of the greatest matches

A young Indian side impressed at Bhubaneswar
A young Indian side impressed at Bhubaneswar
Subhashish Majumdar

Odisha 2018 will go down as one of the finest Hockey World Cups, of recent times, bringing with it, a mix of ingredients that have added up to make a lasting impression on hockey lovers around the globe.

A fair share of scintillating action, massive upsets, breathtaking goals, and spectacular goalkeeping, all culminated in producing a worthy new champion, while a couple of teams made their mark on the world stage for the first time ever.

France, the lowest-ranked side at Bhubaneswar created ripples by getting the better of Olympic Champions Argentina en route to a historic World Cup quarterfinal, while, the Chinese were not to be left behind and made it to the crossovers after splitting points with both England and Ireland.

The Spanish Red Sticks displayed some magnificent attacking flair and were rather unfortunate to head home early, while Stefan Kermas' German side would have fancied their chances of competing much harder than England did in the semifinals - if only they had managed to make it to the last-four stage.

Colin Batch's Australians may no longer be invincible but continue to be one of the most dominant forces in world hockey - just as Max Caldas' boys' inch closer to emulating the performances of the Dutch women's team.

For the Olympic silver-medalists Belgium, the triumph at Bhubaneswar has been equivalent to nothing short of a fairy tale - rising from relative obscurity, a decade ago, to scaling the absolute peak of world hockey.

Hosts India dared to dream big with a gritty young side bundled with an abundance of talent, and laced with a level of fitness that is now the envy of the top teams in the world - one can only imagine what the same lads can achieve on the world stage in a couple of years' time with enhanced experience and maturity.

We relive five of the best matches from Odisha 2018 - and the magical moments from these, that will forever be etched in the memory of spectators around the world.

#5 England vs China (Pool B encounter)

It might have been a rude awakening for Danny Kerry's boys - but the rest of the hockey world watched in awe as Guo Xiaoping danced his way past a host of English defenders as early as the fifth minute, and displayed admirable ball control at the goalmouth before beating George Pinner.

Pinner - one of the nominees for FIH's Goalkeeper of the Year watched helplessly as Kim Sang-Ryul's side went into an early lead in their first-ever World Cup encounter and the Chinese kept up the attacks at regular intervals.

Mark Gleghorne restored some sanity into the contest by equalizing off a PC just before the end of the first quarter, but Chinese goalkeeper Wang Caiyu refused to allow the English to score a second until the beginning of the final quarter when Liam Ansell finally found the back of the net.

The English bench heaved a sigh of relief and could have hardly have imagined that the worst was still to come.

The Chinese earned a PC with a minute left on the clock, and Du Talake beat Harry Gibson - who had replaced Pinner at the end of the first quarter, to end the match with the scores tied at 2-2.

It was a dream start for the Chinese ranked seventeenth - ten places above England in the FIH World Rankings.

Post the World Cup, the Chinese have now risen three places and are 14th in the world rankings while France - who beat Kim's team in the crossovers have risen five places to be ranked 15th as per the FIH.

Guo Xiaoping's goal was one of the best ever in recent times - but Wang Caiyu's heroics between the posts and Talake's lethal strike at the death will be remembered as one of the defining moments of Odisha 2018.

#4 Argentina vs Spain (Pool A encounter)

Argentina v Spain - a Hispanic thriller in Odisha
Argentina v Spain - a Hispanic thriller in Odisha

FIH master-coach Siegfried Aikman who was at Bhubaneswar witnessed the all-Hispanic classic from the stands and analyzed the encounter in his unique and inimitable style.

"I noticed a different style of defending - Spain using old-fashioned flat triangle man-to-man defence, and Argentina, in front-marking man-to-man defence. Argentina used more vertical passes to speed up the game."

"Spain played with 3 deep forwards but because they hardly use vertical passes, they couldn't reach them. One of their first vertical passes created a goal."

"From the Argentine defence, Peillat has lots of trouble defending in front. With one player more, Spain was unable to play a decent power play - they hardly kept the pitch stretched or used the width - due to that, Argentina could survive easily."

"Both teams did not utilize pressure on the defence in case of a turnover in the D - they allowed the opponent to escape."

Brilliant analysis indeed - but one does not necessarily have to possess the acumen of the master strategist, Aikman, to appreciate the fantastic encounter that captured the imagination of everyone who had the good fortune to witness it.

Enrique Gonzalez gave the Red Sticks an early lead in the third minute of play but Agustin Mazzilli put the Argentinians back on level terms in a matter of seconds.

Just before the end of the first quarter, Josep Romeu put the Spaniards ahead yet again.

All eyes were on Pau Quemada, but the ace drag-flicker stepped aside, foxing the Argentine runners, and allowed Romeu to score. Yet again, Mazzilli restored parity for the Olympic champions in no time.

Gonzalo Peillat scored off a PC to put Argentina ahead at the end of the first quarter - five goals had been scored in the space of fifteen minutes from just as many shots on target.

German Orozco's side finally prevailed with a scoreline that read 4-3 with Peillat scoring the decider in the 49th minute after Vicenc Ruiz had levelled things up for Spain just after half-time.

The Spanish had one last chance to earn a creditable draw but Enrique Gonzalez failed to control the ball in the striking circle in the very last minute to end the absolute humdinger on the losing side.

#3 Argentina vs France (Pool A encounter)

Argentina v France - minnows upset the Olympic champs
Argentina v France - minnows upset the Olympic champs

The Chinese did give a massive scare to the English, but Jeroen Delmee's French side can confidently lay claim to causing the biggest upset of the competition.

Not only did the minnows upset Olympic champions Argentina, but, as a result of the incredible 5-3 win - Spain, who had promised much were shockingly eliminated from the World Cup as early as the pool stages.

Before the opening whistle, the French needed a high-scoring draw (with a margin of 5-5 or higher), or a win to upstage the Spanish Red Sticks and make it to an unlikely World Cup knockout.

The Spanish were well on their way to the crossovers with a comfortable two-goal lead against New Zealand, only to concede twice in the final quarter.

As a result of the shocking turn of events, the progress of Frederic Soyez's men hinged solely on the result of the Argentina-France match, but the Spanish would definitely have relied on the Olympic champions to prevail.

Hugo Genestet gave France an early lead which was soon doubled by Victor Charlet. The towering drag-flicker fired one past Vivaldi in the twenty-third minute and Aristide Coisne jolted the South Americans with a third from open play soon after.

Lucas Martinez pulled one back for his team but Gaspard Baumgarten scored with a fantastic diving effort just before the half-time hooter and Argentina went into the long breather trailing 1-4.

Gonzalo Peillat scored twice in the third quarter which would have served to raise the spirits of the Spaniards but Francois Goyet sealed the deal for the French six minutes from time.

Argentina had already assured themselves of a place in the quarterfinals even before the match began - so did that have an impact on the final result?

Sportskeeda checked with Siegfried Aikman who stressed that the Argentinians were well and truly outclassed by a side which exposed their shortcomings.

"I do not think Argentina played badly - only, they had an opponent who played to win and was attacking and aggressive, with determination and passion. Argentina has some problems with teams who are playing fast and forcing the turnovers."

"France was a bit lucky that almost all the bounces went their way. Their conversation rate of the chances was high - while Argentina, for instance, had problems with converting their penalty corners. Later it was better, and immediately they were back in the match."

"I think that France played a great match and showed us how to play against Argentina. If you step into their trap to play a slow-paced game, they will be very strong because they are a very balanced team."

"I don’t think that (the defeat) was because they had already qualified - they really tried to win, but after the score was 3-5 they gave up."

Six days after the loss to France, a below-par Argentinian side went down to England by a 2-3 margin in the quarterfinal, thus ending their hopes of repeating their Olympic feat at the World Cup.

#2 The Netherlands vs India (Quarterfinal)

India v Netherlands - FIH Men's Hockey World Cup: Quarter Final
India v Netherlands - clash of the Titans

While the quality of play, for the most part, may not have pleased the purists of the game, the supercharged atmosphere at the Kalinga Stadium and the enormity of the prize at stake after a gap of 43 years contributed to making the fourth quarterfinal of the World Cup, a match to remember.

Over fifteen-thousand impassioned Indian supporters attempted to will their team on against a formidable Dutch unit, only to return home teary-eyed - but not before they had witnessed a magnificent clash of the hockey titans.

Akashdeep Singh's early goal got the crowd to their feet, but Thierry Brinkman's deflection which beat Sreejesh was greeted by a small pocket of orange shirts, just as the sound of the ball hitting the backboard seeming to stop a million heartbeats momentarily.

A see-saw battle ensued right through a barren second and third quarter with not a dull moment in sight but a rare defensive lapse by the Indians allowed the Dutch to earn a PC in the 50th minute.

Amit Rohidas who had rushed out bravely taking many a drag-flick on his body at Bhubaneswar, left his mark a moment too soon and was banished to the sidelines, allowing Mink van der Weeden to score with one runner less between the posts.

Just when the Indians needed to up the ante, Amit picked up a yellow card for a seemingly-harsh tackle which was the last thing the hosts needed - and failed to find an equalizer in spite of taking Sreejesh off with just over three minutes left on the clock.

It was a gallant effort indeed from a young Indian side but the maturity and experience of the Dutch proved a bit too much to handle for Manpreet and co. who played their hearts out in front of an adoring crowd - who will, perhaps. remember every moment of the great encounter despite the final result.

#1 Australia vs The Netherlands (Semifinal)

Australia v Netherlands - FIH Men's Hockey World Cup: Semi-Final
Australia v Netherlands - two old rivals produce another classic

It was touted to be a contest worthy of a summit clash - which indeed it was - but the repeat of the 2014 World Cup final was quite unlike the one-sided clash at the Hague where Chris Ciriello had sunk the Dutch with one of the most lethal PC hattricks ever.

The Kookaburras began in right earnest, as they always do, but were simply not prepared for the Dutch returning the fire with just as much gusto.

Glenn Schuurman gave Max Caldas reason to smile by finding the opening goal while Seve van Ass' effort in the twentieth minute pegged the world champions back like never before in the tournament (or indeed, in conscious memory).

An inspired Pirmin Blaak in the Dutch goal displayed his split-second reflexes to deny the Aussie strikers until Tim Howard gave the two-time defending champions a lifeline by scoring one off a fantastic PC routine.

A nerve-wracking final quarter kept the spectators glued to the action and Eddie Ockenden found a near-unbelievable equalizer with twenty seconds to go for the end of regulation time with both teams level at two goals apiece.

The Dutch began the shootout well, but the Aussies closed in forcing a sudden death tie-breaker, and Daniel Beale failed to score after Hertzberger did to power the Netherlands to their second successive World Cup final.

The two age-old rivals have played many unforgettable matches over the years but the quarterfinal of Odisha 2014 would be one the Aussies would typically remember as a ripsnorter of a contest.

Edited by Kishan Prasad
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