Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Venison For The Belgians

Diedrich Bader has played a number of quirky characters in his appearance on TV and in the movies, but the one character people seem to quote most often in Bader's work is Rex from Napoleon Dynamite. As the Canadian men's field hockey team played the Belgians in Thursday's game seen on Wednesday in Canada thanks to the time difference, Rex's one line continually popped into my head as I watched this game. That line was "Bow to your sensai", and Canada got an up-close and personal look at field hockey greatness today as the Belgians put on a bit of a field hockey clinic.

The Belgians came out and looked like the second-ranked team in the world, and I should note that the rankings have changed in the last couple of weeks as Belgium went from being top-ranked to the second-ranked team. Australia, playing in Pool A, is now the top-ranked team, and they've looked just as impressive as Belgium in this tournament. That being said, the Caribou had their toughest test standing in front of them if they wanted to compete for a medal. A loss or tie today would end any chance of making the medal round.

I could sit here and wax poetic about how well Canada played in the first quarter, and it wouldn't be wrong for at least one quarter. Canada, despite being overwhelmed by Belgium's attack at times, weathered the storm nicely. A 12th-minute goal by Belgian striker Alexander Hendrickx was offset by a 15th-minute goal by Mark Pearson as Canada's pushback in the late stages of the quarter found its mark. After the opening frame, Canada and Belgium were tied at 1-1.

After scoring a big goal to close out the first quarter, there was some hope that Canada might be able to apply some additional pressure on the Belgians by scoring a second goal, but the Belgians began to lock down their defensive circle quite nicely, denying Canada scoring opportunities on nearly every occasion they tried to attack. Belgium would take a lead in the 29th minute when Sebastien Dockier's strike found the back of the net past Canadian goalkeeper Antoni Kindler, and the Belgians would take that 2-1 lead into halftime where Canada had to be pretty ecstatic that they were within striking distance entering the second half.

Remember how I was talking about Rex and "Bow to your sensai" above? The third quarter is where Belgium played the role of Rex and Canada played the role of Kip because Belgium flexed their muscles coming out of the break. Five goals in the quarter - Dockier with his second, Felix Denayer, Hendrickx with his second, Simon Gougnard, and Cedric Charlier - pushed Belgium to a 7-1 lead as the shellshocked Canadians went to the sidelines to regroup as the horn sounded. Any chance of winning this game and upsetting Belgium was now gone, so it was about playing for pride in the fourth quarter.

Canada wouldn't cause any additional damage on the scoreboard in the final frame, but a pair of goals from Tom Boon and Florent van Aubel were more than enough insurance on the six-goal lead that Belgium had already built, and the Belgians would secure their first-place standing in Pool B with the 9-1 victory over Canada. With the loss, Canada dropped to 0-4 in the tournament, and will not compete in the medal round.

In the other games, Pool A action in the men's tournament saw Spain defeat Japan by a 4-1 score, Australia wrap up top spot in the pool with a 4-2 win over New Zealand, and India downed Argentina 3-1.

Pool A on the women's side of the tournament saw Netherlands shutout South Africa 5-0, Great Britain defeat India 4-1, and Germany down Ireland by a 4-2 score. Pool B games had Spain defeat New Zealand by a 2-1 score, Australia win 1-0 over Japan, and Argentina also turned in a one-goal margin of victory with a 3-2 win over China.

Making matters worse for the Caribou is that South Africa shocked the tournament with a 3-1 upset of the Germans later in the morning, so Canada has to defeat South Africa in the final game not to finish in last in Pool B. The 1-3 South African squad could still make the medal round with a win over Canada, so they'll be fired up with something to play for when the Canadians arrive at the pitch on Friday. In a twist of fate, it will be Canada looking to play the role of spoiler in that game.

The Caribou won't advance after being carved up by the Belgians which means there's just one last game for Canada at the Tokyo Olympics. The boys gave it their all, and I'm proud of their efforts. It wasn't the results they wanted, but it's valuable experience for a team that wasn't even expected to be there.

Good on you, lads. Now go win that last game!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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