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England and Spain struggle in the men's EuroHockey Nations
20 Aug 2007 09:07

Photo: Wolfgang Sternberger

Day 2 of action at the EuroHockey Nations Championships saw two of the favorites struggle already as the first day of competition in the men's event had Belgium forcing hosts England to a draw and Ireland doing the same to a listless Spanish side. In the other matches, Germany easily defeated the Czech Republic and the Netherlands cruised past France.

The day started off with the encounter between current World Champions Germany and the lowest ranked team in this tournament, the Czech side. The Germans dominated the game from start to finish and exhibited fine skills while their opponents were mostly busy trying to contain the damage. The Germans played creative hockey in style to reward the limited numbers of spectators who had come in at the early hour and despite intermittent rain.

Young Benni Wess, little brother to team captain Timo, opened the scoring in the 9th minute with reverse stick shot on a loose ball in the circle. Germany contained their opposition in their half for long stretches of time, but the Czech defended well and would not give away goals easily, and so the World Champions only managed one more goal before the break as WorldHockey Young Player of the Year Christopher Zeller scored a lovely reverse stick goal from the top of the circle.

Throughout the second half, Germany pushed for more goals, but they were denied many times by the brilliant Czach goalkeeper Filip Neusser who was key to his side's performance today. Despite his excellent saves, the Czech had to take three more goals, as Benni Wess got his second tapping in a pass across and Carlos Nevado put two to his name first diving in on a Moritz Fürste pass across the face of the goal and late in the match making good use of an opportunity in the form of a rebound off a Zeller corner flick.

Next up were the hosts, taking on Belgium. Belgium have contracted a new coach and made quite extensive changes to the squad since their dismal showing in June's Champions Challenge, and looked much better than they did then. Both teams considered this match to be a crucial one to win in the hunt for a semifinal spot, and the nerves showed at the beginning as both teams started off cautiously and settled into a slow game.

England got a slight advantage late in the first half as Matt Daly converted a penalty corner but Belgium soon replied with the equalizer at the hands of John-John Dohmen who made good use of sloppy defending from the home team to level the score. The second half set off with England attacking ferociously to reclaim the lead but Belgium not only denied them but even went one up with a goal from Charles Vandeweghe. The match turned into an open exchange of blows, Belgium anxious to walk away with three points while England were desperate to salvage at least one, and eventually, it was England who succeeded, using their advantage in numbers after a yellow card for John-John Dohmen to tie the game again as Barry Middleton deflected a cross past Cedric Degreve. As the clock ticked down, both teams had opportunities to snatch the winner but neither succeeded, and both eventually had to content themselves with one point each.

This first draw in the tournament nwas immediately followed by the second, as Spain butted heads with Ireland. Ireland achieved promotion two years ago and are ranked 7th in the tournament, while Spain are the current European Champions and regular participants in top World level events. Many people thus anticipated an easy game for Spain, but Ireland was not to be intimidated by their opponents' credentials and went out defending for all they were worth against a sluggish and not well coordinated Spanish side.

The Spanish are of course suffering the absences of super star Santi Freixa and Pau Quemada, and also have to deal with a hamstring injury to experienced striker Pol Amat that forced him to remain in the stands yesterday, but their showing yesterday was still quite disappointing. A second minute goal from Mark Gleghorne found the Spaniards trailing the Irish early in the game, and it took them until far in the second half to recover from the shock of a seemingly inferior opponent putting on the pressure.

Throughout the match, Spain lacked flair, and as feared, they particularly struggled with their short corners. They had a number of these opportunities but wasted them on sometimes less than exciting attempts, but it was eventually from a penalty corner that the elusive equalizer came as Xavi Ribas powered a low shot past David Harte. Both teams tried for the winning goal for the remainder of the encounter but chances were few and far between and they had to settle for a draw - a result that will seem like a win for the Irish but caused visible distress to the Spanish side, especially to coach Maurits Hendriks who did not find many kind words for his team in the post-match press conference.

The day ended with the match between the Netherlands and France. The Dutch dictated play despite some good efforts from the French, with Taeke Taekema taking center stage with 5 goals, two from penalty corners and three from penalty strokes. Three of his goals came in the first half, when France had severe trouble to keep up with the fast play and excellent coordination of the opposing team, as well as Matthijs Brouwer goal. The French could only muster one as Sebastien Jean-Jean hit one into the net for France.

For most of the second half, France looked more composed and was able to better contain Holland but still struggled to create chances. They also could not avoid two penalty strokes, opportunities the infallible Taekema never lets go, plus a second Brouwer goal and a 65th minute blow from Erik Bouwens, but did manage to get two in to their credit as Martin Genestet drove a hard hit past Julien Thamin and Charles Verrier sunk a shot on the rebound.

Despite the eventually high margin, it was a good showing for the French who will be a tough opponent for the other teams in their pool if they manage to keep up their good work, while the Netherlands certainly laid out their claim for the final, so far looking like the only team that might challenge the Germans in their quest for the title.

Play continues on Monday with six games, as the women play out round two of their action, and the men's competition pairs Germany with Belgium and England with teh Czech Republic.

All results:
Germany - Czech Republic 5-0 (2-0)
England - Belgium 2-2 (1-1)
Spain - Ireland 1-1 (0-1)
Netherlands - France 8-3 (4-1)

Pool Standings:

Pool A

Germany 3 p. 5-0
Belgium 1 p. 2-2
England 1 p. 2-2
Czech Republic 0 p. 0-5

Pool B

Netherlands 3 p. 8-3
Ireland 1 p. 1-1
Spain 1 p. 1-1
France 0 p. 3-8

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