Saturday, 23 August 2008

Field Hockey's Last Post

The title of this article is a little misleading. It's not going to be the last post forever on field hockey. It's just that today was the last day of field hockey at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and the men were due to settle their standings. Being a Canadian, my interest in how the Canadian squad did actually ended on August 21 when the Belgians and Canadians played their final games in the XXIX Olympic Games, but there were still medals to be awarded and games to be played. Would the Dutch men complete the sweep of the gold medals to equal the women? Would Pakistan, once world powers, rise to the medal podium once again? Without further adieu, let's take a look at the men's field hockey results.

11th-Place Match: China vs. South Africa

The host Chinese team didn't fare as well as the Chinese women did, but they still put up a great fight in their games. South Africa was a determined team all week as they attempted to pull off upsets, but both teams found themselves in the 11th-place match. South Africa got on the scoreboard in the 3rd minute with a goal from Lungile Tsolekile after he scored on a rebound from his own shot. Both teams pressed each other defensively, and there were numerous chances throughout the half. At the 32-minute mark, China's Yubo Na even the score at 1-1 when he poked a loose ball home in a goal-mouth scramble. In the second half, the intensity didn't change. Chinese captain Yi Song scored two penalty corner goals in succession, the first in the 53rd minute while the second was scored at the 58th-minute mark. South Africa looked to be defeated, but they didn't give up. At the 63rd minute, Ian Symons converted a penalty corner to make the score 3-2. And then, in the 70th minute with seconds left, Austin Smith tied the game on a penalty corner to send the game to extra time.

As the thought of the "golden goal" crept into the minds of both teams, the first half of extra time was played cautiously. However, in the final stages of extra time, South Africa could not convert a penalty corner, and China was awarded one of their own. On this attempt, captain Yi Song scored his third of the game and seventh of the tournament to secure the 11th-place spot for the Chinese men. This is a drop from Athens for the South Africans where they finished 10th.

9th-Place Match: Belgium vs. Canada

This game, as stated above, was played a day earlier, and the teams entered the pitch to find the field under a torrential downpour. However, that rain didn't put the fire out in the Belgians, and Jerome Dekeyser gave the Belgian team the lead only two minutes in with his deflection goal. In what looked like a replay of the first goal, John-John Dohmen deflected a shot past the Canadian goaltender, Mike Mahood, at the 23rd minute to give Belgium a 2-0 lead going into halftime. In the second half, the Canadians furiously tried to get a shot past the Belgian defence, but found themselves coming up empty as the Belgians played shutdown defence. Jerome Dekeyser scored his second goal of the game with a hit in the dying seconds to give Belgium the 9th-place spot in the tournament after their 3-0 win over the Canadians. The Belgians equaled their best finish at the Olympics with the win, while Canada equaled their last Olympic finish when they finished 10th in Sydney in 2000.

7th-Place Match: New Zealand vs. Pakistan

This was another match that took place on August 21, and the "Blacksticks" really exposed the Pakistani team's weaknesses. Both teams went back and forth for the first 20 minutes of the match. However, New Zealand began to take over, and were rewarded with a marvelous deflection goal by Simon Child at the 26th minute. New Zealand appeared to be gaining momentum, but entered the halftime break with the 1-0 lead. The second half was all about capitalizing on that momentum, and the Kiwis did that. Hayden Shaw scored an impressive penalty corner goal in the 39th minute, and followed it up with some grandstanding by pointing at his image on the scoreboard. The 43rd minute saw a superb effort by Simon Child deflected high into the net by Gareth Brooks to give New Zealand a 3-0 lead. Pakistan's Syed Abbas Haider Bilgrami struck back three minutes later to cut the deficit to 3-1, but another Hayden Shaw penalty corner goal in the 53rd minute gave New Zealand a 4-1 lead. Rehan Butt scored in the 56th minute for Pakistan, but the New Zealand team showed their resiliency by holding strong until the final whistle. New Zealand earns the 7th-place spot with a 4-2 victory over Pakistan. It was clearly evident that the Pakistani squad was disappointed with their 8th-place finish, and this may be a wake-up call for the nation in terms of a sport they dominated for so long.

5th-Place Match: South Korea vs. Great Britain

This game looked to be a closely played match in the first half. Both goalkeepers were busy making saves, and neither side could put the ball past the keepers. Entering the halftime break, the game was deadlocked in a scoreless draw. However, the second half would show why this game can be one of the fastest sports on the planet. Barry Middleton opened the scoring for Great Britain at the 44th minute with a goal at close range. Four minutes later, Jong Hyun Jang converted a penalty corner, and the game was tied at 1-1. Ashley Jackson didn't wait long to move Great Britain ahead again. His penalty corner goal came one minute after the Korean goal, and gave Britain a 2-1 lead. At the 54th minute, Jonty Clarke extended the British lead to two goals off a superb full-length dive to tap home a crossing pass. Clarke struck again in the 63rd minute, deftly sending the ball past the Korean goalkeeper for his second of the game. Hye Sung Hyun scored in the 67th minute on a penalty corner to pull the Koreans within two goals, but Britain's Glenn Kirkham sealed the victory with his deflection to give the British squad a 5-2 victory over the Koreans.

Bronze Medal Match: Australia vs. The Netherlands

After losing a heart-breaking final to the Germans by a 5-4 score on penalty strokes, the Netherlands were up against another powerhouse in the Australians, who lost their semi-final game 3-2 against the Spanish on a goal in the 68th minute. Both of these teams were hungry for a medal, and this match looked to be a high-scoring affair.

Unfortunately for the Dutch, the Australians simply controlled this game from start to finish. Eddie Ockenden scored the first goal of the game in the 5th minute, and followed that goal with another one 30 seconds later. In the 9th minute, Des Abbott made it 3-0 when he slapped the ball past the Dutch goaltender on a terrific setup by Jamie Dwyer. The Dutch team looked stunned and in disarray, but the 12th minute saw Taeke Taekema convert a penalty corner to reduce Australia's lead to 3-1. Teun de Nooijer cut the lead to one goal on his deflection in the 27th minute, and it appeared that the Netherlands had found some life. However, Australia's Eli Matheson restored the two-goal lead when he tapped in a brilliant cross from Eddie Ockenden. As the teams went into halftime, Australia lead 4-2. Rob Hammond increased the Aussie lead back to three goals with his reverse stick strike in the 42nd minute. From there, the Australians simply shutdown the Dutch's efforts. Australia's Luke Doerner scored the sixth goal of the match for the Hockeyroos in the 62nd minute on a penalty corner that erased any hopes of a comeback for the Netherlands. Australia wins the bronze medal with a 6-2 victory, and ease some of the disappointment of losing in the semi-final game.

Gold Medal Match: Germany vs. Spain

In the all-European final, Germany and Spain came out playing cautious hockey, knowing the gold medal and "Olympic Champion" title were on the line. Germany clearly controlled the ball while the Spain seemed to lie in wait for a German mistake. At the 16th minute, Christopher Zeller ripped a flick on a penalty corner under the crossbar to give the Germans the 1-0 lead. This seemed to energize Spain, and they took it to the Germans. It appeared that they may have had momentum on their side as the half was ending, but the Germans carried the 1-0 lead into the break. In the second half, the Germans displayed world-class defence. Spain controlled the ball in the open field, but couldn't punch the ball into the scoring arc for an attack. With time ticking down, the Spanish squad simply had no finish against a powerful German team, and the Germans claimed the gold medal with that 1-0 victory. The Germans have now been crowned the Olympic Champions and World Cup Champions, and look to be strong for the foreseeable future.

Final Standings
1. Germany
2. Spain
3. Australia
4. Netherlands
5. Great Britain
6. South Korea
7. New Zealand
8. Pakistan
9. Belgium
10. Canada
11. China
12. South Africa

The men's side had their fair share of upsets and underdog wins. Australia, the #2-ranked team in the world, lost a match they looked ensured of winning. The Germans defeated the Netherlands in an exciting match on the equivalent of a hockey shootout, and it made for tense times. All in all, this tournament showed that field hockey games can change in a moment's notice, and that no score is completely guaranteed until the final whistle is blown. The twelve teams that participated should hold their heads high. The skill, speed, and athleticism shown by all was, indeed, world-class.

Congratulations to all the men who participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympic field hockey games! Congratulations are also in order for the gold medalist German men, the silver medalist Spanish men, and the bronze medalist Australian men!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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