Tuesday, 12 August 2008

The Men Take The Field

The men kicked off their Olympic field hockey competition yesterday, and the superpowers came to play. Watching field hockey gives you a pretty good perspective as to how taxing this game can be as a player when an Australian was carted off on a stretcher. Between the amount of running and the stress that must be placed on the lower back, this is a game for only the fittest of athletes. With that in mind, let's take a look at the world's best men's field hockey teams, and how they fared on Day One.

The opening game was played between the German and Chinese squads. While the Chinese squad is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, they came out and played hard against the favoured Germans. A quick goal by Na Yubo put the hosts up by one, but the Germans stormed back with increasing pressure. Christopher Zeller scored on a gorgeous flick to tie the game, but the Chinese men held strong and weathered the storm until halftime. In the second half, the Germans overpowered the fading Chinese men, adding two goals from Florian Keller before Carlos Nevado sealed the deal with two minutes to go. Germany defeated China 4-1 in the opening match.

Great Britain squared off against Pakistan in the second match, and the Brits didn't waste any time in this one. James Tindall scored one minute in to put Great Britain up early. Rob Moore gave the Brits a two-goal lead on a spectacular reverse stick goal before adding his second of the game near the end of the first half on a penalty corner. Pakistan looked listless in the first half of the game as they entered halftime down 3-0. However, the "Greenshirts" responded early in the second half as Shakeel Abbasi and Muhammad Waqas scored goals for Pakistan to reduce the deficit to a 3-2 score. Britain's Matt Daly scored on a penalty corner to open a 4-2 margin between the teams, and the Brits held on to win by the same score.

Asian champion South Korea took to the pitch to play the New Zealand men, and things started well for the Koreans. Nam Yong Lee converted a rebound off a penalty corner to give the South Koreans a 1-0 lead which they took into the half. The "Blacksticks" came out strong in the second half. Hayden Shaw, New Zealand's penalty corner star, took over the game and scored three goals from the penalty corner spot on three corner attempts. The lower-ranked Kiwis defeated the Koreans by the 3-1 score, and set back the Korean men significantly.

Top-ranked Australia matched up with the Canadians in their first match, and the Aussies didn't waste any time in overpowering the Canadian squad. Des Abbott scored two goals in less than a minute, converting two phenomenal runs by teammates into goals. Fergus Kavanagh added a third goal shortly later for the "Hockeyroos", and the Canadian men appeared to be in over their heads. Late in the first half, Australian Jamie Dwyer was taken out on a stretcher after colliding at full speed with a Canadian defender. Early in the second half, Peter Short converted a Ranjeev Deol pass into a goal for the Canucks, cutting the Aussie lead to 3-1. However, the impressive Australian squad tallied three more times on goals by Eddie Ockenden, Grant Schubert, and Des Abbott's hat trick marker. Australia defeats Canada by a 6-1 score, and got some great news as injured player Jamie Dwyer returned for the handshakes and appeared to be in good health.

The Spaniards and the Belgians tangled in their game, and it appears that the Spanish men may finally shed the label of "underachievers". Eight minutes, Pol Amat put Spain up 1-0, and Santi Freixa doubled the lead at the 20th minute. Jerome Truyens responded for the Belgian squad before the first half ended as he deflected in a shot at the 28th minute. Six minutes into the second half, Xavier Ribas extended the lead to two goals again for the Spanish side. Eight minutes later, Spain went up 4-1 on a Victor Sojo goal. Jerome Dekeyser cut the deficit to two goals again at the 63rd minute, but it was far too late for a comeback against the solid Spanish team. Spain defeats Belgium 4-2 in their opening match.

The Dutch men, one of the favourites, took the pitch to face South Africa, and this one was all "Oranjes". While South Africa ran themselves to death in the first half, the Netherlands simply waited for opportunities, and then converted. The Dutch men scored on two of three penalty corners they had with both goals being tallied by Taeke Taekema. The second half looked remarkably similar as the South African men worked hard, but were not rewarded for their efforts. On the other side, Laurence Docherty, Jeroen Hertzberger, and Matthijs Brouwer added goals for the Netherlands, and they prevailed 5-0 at the end of time.

It appears that both the Australian and Dutch squads should be playing for the gold medal in this event, but the British and German squads will surely give them a run for the money. Can someone else upset one of these impressive teams? Only time will tell.

Day Two of the women's competition went today, and there was more heartbreak for a couple of teams. The field hockey powers established their dominance once again today, and look to be set for the playoff round.

The Argentinian women took to the pitch, looking to rebound after their underwhelming draw against the Americans two days earlier. They squared off against the British women, and got off to a great start as Soledad Garcia scored for Argentina early in the match. The 1-0 score carried into halftime, but Argentina clearly carried the play in the first half of this match. In the second half, Argentina extended the lead on a goal by Alejandra Gulla, and it appeared that this game's result was already decided. However, individual errors and penalties cost the Argentinians what looked like a sure win. Britain's Sarah Thomas scored on a penalty corner after Mariana Gonzalez Oliva was sent off under a yellow card after two rough tackles. Two minutes later, Mel Clewlow scored on another penalty corner on a superb flick. Argentina and Great Britain ended the game tied at two goals apiece, and this is a huge blow to Argentina's playoff hopes.

Australia and Spain tangled in their second matches, and it was thought that the Australians would handled the Spanish easily. However, Spain got on the board first off a goal by Silvia Muñoz. Twenty minutes later, Angie Lambert got Australia on the board, and helped the Hockeyroos carry a 1-1 draw into halftime. However, the Aussies came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. Goals by Nikki Hudson, Casey Eastham, Emily Halliday and Megan Rivers put the game out of reach before Angie Lambert scored her second of the day to round out the scoring. Interestingly enough, Lambert's first goal was the 100th goal for the Australian women in Olympic competition, the first team to achieve that mark. At the end of the match, Australia had dispatched the Spanish by a 6-1 score.

The American women faced off against the Japanese women, and this game was a defensive struggle. Kaori Chiba opened the scoring for the Japanese squad at the 12th minute as she deflected the ball into the American goal. Japan took their 1-0 lead into halftime after a first half that was marked with errors and turnovers for both teams. The turnovers continued in the second half, and Kate Barber of the American squad made Japan pay by converting a poor clearing attempt into a goal. The game's flow was almost non-existant, and the two teams ended the game in a 1-1 tie. Japan will be anxiously waiting to hear about striker Kaori Chiba who was taken off the field on a stretcher at the end of the game.

In one of the more exciting games of the day, Netherlands and Korea squared off in the next match. In the first seven minutes, there were three goals scored. Maartje Paumen scored off a penalty corner flick to give the Dutch the early 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later, Korean captain Seon Ok Lee tied the game for the Koreans. However, four minutes later, Janneke Schopman scored on another Dutch penalty corner to give the Netherlands a 2-1 lead. The back-and-forth action continued throughout the first half, but the one-goal lead held up as the Dutch women carried the 2-1 lead into halftime. Seon Ok Lee capitalized on a second penalty corner for her second goal at the 39th minute. At the 55th minute, Maartje Paumen scored on another penalty corner attempt to give the Netherlands a 3-2 lead. The game went down to the wire, but the Dutch women held on to defeat Korea 3-2 for their second victory of the tournament.

The Chinese fans packed the house for the late games as host China took on South Africa. Five minutes in, Chunling Tang gave the fans a reason to cheer as she deflected in a shot to give the home team a 1-0 lead. China began to establish themselves as the first half progressed, but the South African women began to stir near the end of the half. However, Fu Baorong scored a brilliant goal to relieve the pressure and give the fans some relief as they headed into halftime. In the second half, Qingling Song scored a reverse goal at the 40th minute to give the Chinese squad a three-goal advantage. From there, China played shutdown hockey and ran out the time to defeat the South African women by that 3-0 score.

The New Zealand women took to the pitch to face the powerful German squad in the late game. Krystal Forgesson scored at the 31st minute, late in the first half, to give the "Blacksticks" a 1-0 lead while throwing a scare into the German squad. The teams battled to the halftime mark in this 1-0 state. In the second half, it appeared that the German women were trying to make that extra perfect pass for a goal, and it was costing them opportunities. However, at the 59th minute, Katharina Scholz teed up a ball and fired it past the New Zealand goaltender on a long hit. With the game tied at one goal apiece, it looked as though the New Zealand women were going to be able to split the game with the German women. However, a late penalty corner cost the New Zealand women as Anke Kuehn flicked home the winner for the Germans at the 69th minute. Germany defeats New Zealand 2-1 in this match.

The men still have four days of play left, while the women have three days remaining. However, teams that have yet to record points in the women's competition are facing an uphill battle to make it to the playoff round. Lots more field hockey to come in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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