In the last pool matches of this tournament, France beat Ireland to send Spain through to the semis independent of the Spaniards' result against the Dutch and Belgium drubbed the Czech Republic to put pressure on Germany having to win against England. The Netherlands defeated Spain to claim first place in their pool, and Germany wrapped up the day with a win against England that sent the home team to the relegation pool instead of the semifinal they had hoped for.
The Irish had started into the day hopeful, as a win over the French, who had shown little in this tournament previously, was going to put major pressure on Spain to at least win one point against the Dutch to reach the semis. Dave Passmore's boys could not reproduce the good performances they had put forward in their first two encounters however, and from the beginning had great difficulty with a French side that played their hearts out today.
After a goalless first half, Ireland found themselves trailing after ten minutes of the second half when the imposing French captain Frederic Soyez sank a penalty corner. The game soon turned into open battle as the Irish were desperate to get back on track and the French went all out to hold on to their three points.
As the minutes wound down, the entertaining match turned highly dramatic as English umpire Hamish Jamson sent one Frenchman after the other off the pitch - Matthieu Durchon was the first to go in the 62nd minute, followed by Sebastien Jean-Jean a minute later, and Yannick Schambert another 90 seconds later. Three men down, France fought tooth and nail to hold on to their three points, and breathed a big sigh of relief when Durchon came back onto the field to get them back to nine players - only to go back down to eight not even a minute later when team captain Fred Soyez picked up another yellow.
Against all odds, the French managed to hold on though and scraped through to the elusive win that sees them into the relegation pool on three points and also assured a semifinal for Spain, putting them in the top four independent of the result of their match against the Netherlands later in the day.
Next up were Belgium and Czech Republic, another crunch time encounter as Belgium had the opportunity to reach the semifinals on their own account by winning with at least 6 goals difference. And they did just that, first scoring in the first minute, as a ball stolen off the Czech in midfield was sent up high for John-John Dohmen in the circle who put it past Filip Neusser for the early lead. Belgium then steadily added goals, including a second one for Dohmen, a double hit for penalty corner specialist Gregory Gucassoff, another penalty corner goal from Loic Vandeweghe, and a goal from Max Luycx.
Belgium were the superior side while he Czech once more were seen to be clearly not up to the task of competing with the best teams in Europe. Gino Schilders' team are on zero points after three matches and have yet to score a goal, but have already conceded 18, despite the efforts of Filip Neusser, who is one of the best goalkeepers in this tournament but cannot make up entirely for the weaknesses of his team.
The Belgians were jubilant after this victory which secured them a berth in a semifinal, assuring they will finish at least with the same result as at the last European Nations Championships two years ago, when they finished fourth, and allows them a shot at direct qualification with the big three, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.
The third game of the day saw Spain take on the Netherlands in a direct battle for first place in the group, the winner playing Belgium, the defeated team playing either Germany or England in the semifinal. Always good for great entertainment, the two teams once again did not fail to put on an excellent show for the crowd.
Teun de Nooijer drove a reverse stick shot past Spanish goalkeeper Quico Cortes less than two minutes from the beginning, and Spain immediately replied with a penalty corner goal from Xavi Ribas. With the game level again after this kick-off double hit, the two teams played out a fast match, the ball travelling up and down the field ceaselessly and the sides taking turns in threatening each others goals.
Spain were unlucky to concede a penalty stroke in the 24th minute however, which Taeke Taekema dutifully put away for his seventh goal in the competition. Spain subsequently pushed hard for the equalizer before the break but instead had to take another goal from Holland as Roderick Weusthof skillfully accepted a high and wide aerial into the circle to sweep the ball into the goal through in between Quico Cortes' legs.
The game restarted with both teams still very much in a playing mood, and soon enough, the Spanish took a step back into the match when the mercurial Pol Amat, completely restored after the injury that forced him out of his team's opener in this tournament, outplayed two Dutch defenders after a long pass from Kiko Fabregas to hit a low reverse stick shot past Guus Vogels. Less than five minutes later however, the ever reliable Taeke Taekema restored the two goal lead for his side with a penalty corner, and it looked much less likely again that Spain could still claim victory in the titans' clash.
Spain played fine hockey tonight, Edi Tubau standing out in a team of fine-skilled and hard-working top class players, but they could not endanger a Dutch side that produced an outstanding peformance, certainly laying their claim to the title clearly out for everyone to see.
Concluding the day, hosts England took on Germany, England only needing a draw to reach the semifinals, while Germany needed to win. The stadium was well-filled for this important game, with around 3,500 spectators having found their way to Belle Vue to cheer on their team but the crowd's enthusiasm quickly took an early dampener when Matthias Witthaus first scored in the third minute to give the World Champions the lead.
England played well and were able to construct a number of scoring opportunities throughout the match but could not keep up with the energetic display of superior ball skills of the World Champions tonight. Even the English penalty corner, under normal circumstances highly successfully executed by the towering leader of the defense, Richard Mantell, failed time and again, while the Germans kept up the pressure, pushing forward time and again with long passes and quick running near the circle, their attacks revolving around WorldHockey Young Player of the Year Christopher Zeller and today's two time scorer Matthias Witthaus.
England kept their opponents at bay through much of the first 35 minutes to keep them within reach after the early first Witthaus goal but they could not avoid Witthaus doubling the lead in the dying seconds of the first half with a crisp strike from the top of the circle to deal a heavy blow to the home team's aspirations and the crowd's hopes.
Nonetheless, the English restarted the game optimistic and freshly motivated after the break, and they were able to win a series of penalty corners but could not convert. Shortly after, their enthusiasm experienced sudden deflation as Germany scored their third goal as Jan-Marco Montag neatly put away a rocket of a drag flick on a penalty corner ten minutes into second half.
The hosts gritted their teeth and determinedly kept pushing to get back into the match but as time wore on, their prospects of still reaching the elusive semifinal looked less and less promising. Frustration built and discharged in a number of tussles which brought about yellow cards for Jon Bleby and Matt Daly in the last fifteen minutes of the match, but England were never down a man for long as Germany saw Tibor Weißenborn and Sebastian Biederlack equally sinbinned almost simultaneously.
England were still able to win another string of penalty corners towards the end of the match but failed once more to make good use of the opportunities created, unable to keep the Germans from claiming the last available semifinal berth. The defeat brought with it a large number of disappointed faces in the stadium, in players as well as amongst the crowd, despite a fine display of skill by English players, as it spells out relegation pool for England - as well as confinement to participating in one of next year's three Olympic qualifiers instead of the possibility of winning one of the three direct qualification tickets up for grabs for the top four teams.
Play resumes tomorrow with the next round of women's matches. The day starts with the relegation pool matches between Ireland and the Ukraine and between Azerbaijan and Italy, and continues with the women's tournament's semifinals between the Netherlands and Spain and between England and Germany.
France - Ireland 1-0 (1-0)
Belgium - Czech Republic 6-0 (3-0)
Spain - Netherlands 2-4 (1-3)
England - Germany 0-3 (0-2)
Women on Thursday, August 23
12:00 Relegation Pool Ireland v Ukraine
14:00 Relegation Pool Azerbaijan v Italy
16:00 Semifinal Netherlands v Spain
18:30 Semifinal England v Germany
Men on Friday, August 24
12:00 Relegation Pool England v Ireland
14:00 Relegation Pool France v Czech Republic
16:00 Semifinal Netherlands v Belgium
18:30 Semifinal Germany v Spain
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