Sunday, 14 August 2016

To The Quarters!

The preliminary round of the field hockey event is over, and the men's quarterfinals started today. Canada, unfortunately, did not qualify, but they gave it a helluva run in competing with some of the big players on the field hockey scene. Instead, four European teams, both Oceania teams, a South American team, and an Asian team lined up to determine which countries will take home one of three medals. That field was reduced by half today, so let's take a look at who is guaranteed a shot at one of those three medals!

Belgium vs. India

I'm a little surprised that India made it this far as they looked a little discombobulated on the pitch at times, but the end results were all that mattered. They finished in fourth-place in Pool B with a 2-2-1 record and seven points, qualifying them for the quarterfinals and placing them in the crossover game against first-place in Pool A.

Belgium is a surprise winner of Pool A, finishing ahead of both Australia and New Zealand. Belgium went 4-0-1 in the preliminary round with their only loss coming to New Zealand in the final preliminary game which had zero effect on their standing. They finished the preliminary round with the best goal differential at +16, and surrendered the second-least goals-against at five.

The Indian squad jumped out to a lead late in the first quarter when Akashdeep Singh found the back of the net past Vincent Vanasch at the 15-minute mark. Singh deflected a Manpreet Singh pass inside the circle to open the scoring after they had played a very defence-first opening quarter.

However, the dam burst in the second half. Belgium's S├ębastien Dockier scored from the top of the circle after dribbling past three Indian defenders at the 34-minute mark, and added his second goal of the third quarter when he redirected Cedric Charlier's cross from left into the back of the net at the 45-minute for the 2-1 lead.

Belgium would make it a 3-1 game when Tom Boon found space in the pressing India defence, and his strike found the back of the net at the 50-minute mark. With the 3-1 lead, Belgium simply sat back and denied the Indian attack while playing a very controlled clearing game to advance to the semifinals for the first time in 96 years!

Spain vs. Argentina

Spain played an excellent preliminary round in going 3-1-1 for second-place in Pool A. They did lose to pool winner Belgium and drew against Great Britain, but Spain downed the two Oceania teams in establishing their spot in Pool A. Spain was very responsible defensively yet conservative on the offensive side of the ball. Their goal differential was a +7 which included a 7-0 thrashing of Brazil.

Argentina finished in third-place in Pool B on the strength of a 2-1-2 record. Los Leones were involved in some very high-scoring matches through the preliminary round which contributed to their high totals in both the goals-for and goals-against totals, but their overall differential was just +2. Argentina would need to play better on the defensive side of the ball in the quarterfinals if they hoped to play for a medal on Tuesday.

Argentinian Gonzalo Peillat scored his team-leading seventh goal from a penalty corner in extra time added onto the first quarter in what was a very defensively-oriented first quarter. That trend would continue through to half-time where the South American squad held the one-goal lead.

It would take until the final three minutes for Spain to find the scoreboard, but Pau Quemada did what he does best as he beat Juan Vivaldi off a penalty corner to knot the game up at 1-1, and it appeared that we may be headed for penalty shots to decide this contest.

However, Argentina was awarded a penalty stroke with just over a minute remaining when the ball was blocked by a Spain defender illegally off a penalty corner, giving the penalty stroke opportunity. Veteran defender Juan Gilardi made no mistake as he wired the ball past Quico Cortes, and Los Leones erupted in celebration. After 11 Olympic appearances, Argentina would find itself in its first semifinals opportunity with the 2-1 victory!

Netherlands vs. Australia

Netherlands finished second in Pool B with a 3-1-1 record, drawing with Argentina in the opening game of the tournament and losing to Germany in the final preliminary round game. The Dutch men were the second-highest scoring team in the tournament, and had the second-best goal differential at +12. Despite not finishing first in their pool, they looked ready for a run at a medal.

Australia finished a surprising third-place in Pool A with a 3-2-0 record. They dropped a game to Spain and to Belgium who both finished ahead of the Kookaburras, and those losses were costly as they would play a fairly good team in the crossover game. While Australia was the best defensive team in only surrendering four goals, those were costly goals in the two losses.

If Australia was supposed to medal, they ran into a Netherlands team that was all about destroying those dreams. Billy Bakker scored a minute into the game, and Bakker set up Bob De Voogd at the 28th minute for a 2-0 lead before half-time.

Valentin Verga would tip a pass into the circle high past netminder Andrew Charter to put the Oranje up 3-0 at the 33rd minute and three minutes into the second-half. Australia played some desperate hockey in the second half, but it was not to be on this day as Mink van der Weerden converted a penalty corner in the 49th minute to all but end any hope that Australia may have had for a comeback.

The Netherlands advance to the semifinals on the strength of their 4-0 victory over Australia.

Germany vs. New Zealand

Germany finished in first-place in Pool B with a 4-0-1 record. They allowed 10 goals which is highly unusual for the German squad, but they scored 17 goals against its opposition in going undefeated. Argentina and Germany tied at 4-4 for the only blemish on their preliminary record, and the Germans are looking strong going into the quarterfinals.

New Zealand, like Australia, finished surprisingly low in Pool A as they ended up in fourth-place. They went 2-2-1 through the preliminary round, falling to Australia and Spain while drawing with Great Britain. If New Zealand wanted to salvage their preliminary round, a big win over the Germans would certainly help in the quarterfinals.

The Black Sticks came out determined to take the game to the Germans, and Hugo Inglis made good on that promise with a goal in 18th minute. Germany would press for an equalizer before the first half ended, but they would be denied by the New Zealand defence.

Both teams traded chances in the third quarter, but it would be New Zealand who put the Germans back on their heels once more in the final stanza. Shea McAleese scored on a penalty corner in the 49th minute, and things looked bleak for the Germans with just 11 minutes to play.

And then all hell broke loose. German captain Moritz Furste converted a penalty corner in the 56th minute to make it a 2-1 game, and he would convert a second penalty corner in the final minute of the game to knot the game up at 2-2!

With everything looking like we'd be heading to penalty shots, one final penalty corner was awarded to Germany. Florian Fuchs dove into the circle with a wild effort to try and end the game, and his shot found the back of the net with literally no time left in the game. Jubilation for Germany and heartbreak for New Zealand as the Germans downed New Zealand 3-2 with an amazing effort in the closing minutes of the game!

Those results leave four teams to do battle on Tuesday as Argentina is scheduled to meet Germany while Belgium and the Netherlands will meet in the second semifinal game. All four teams have a shot at a medal, and it's up to them to determine what colour they'll be playing for in their next games. We'll know that answer come Tuesday evening.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the field!

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