The biggest upset of the tournament came today, on the last day of the Championships as Belgium stunned Germany to qualify for Beijing. In the other matches, Ireland celebrated a goal feast against the Czech Republic, England overcame France, and the Netherlands wrestled down Spain to become European Champions.
The day started with Ireland taking on the Czech Republic with the chance of holding on to the possibility of avoiding relegation by scoring enough goals and hoping for a win by France against the home team. And Ireland di steamroller the Czech who have not scored a single goal in this championship and are relegated back to the Trophy division after just one appearance in the top level European Nations competition.
Ireland started the scoring in the third minute and never looked back, John Jermyn scoring three goals, while Andy Barbour and Mark Gleghorne put away two each, and Eurgene Magee, Phelie Maguire, and Graham Shaw added one a head to make it the first two digit score in the tournament.
The result put some pressure on England who needed to avoid defeat if they wished to remain amongst Europe's top eight. But the home team had no trouble achieving this against a lacklustre French team who never really got into the game. England were led by young Ashley Jackson, only nineteen years of age, who had his shot at glory today when given preference on the short corners, the set piece that England have struggled with at this event. Jackson put away two, and added a field goal to complete a hattrick in today's key encounter.
Simon Mantell, Richard Mantell, Jonty Clarke, and Ali Wilson each scored one to sink the French with seven goals. France fought hard but the team did not click on the pitch today, and their efforts to stop the English yielded another two yellow cards, taking their tournament team total to 10 yellow cards in just 5 games. Despite the sizeable defeat, France finish sixth just behind England and maintain A division status, while the match finalized Ireland and the Czech Republic as the teams to be relegated.
Next up was the match for bronze, of special significance because it was also to decide which of the two contestants booked their ticket to Beijing and which would have to go to an Olympic qualifier. Germany, current World Champions and heavy favorites to claim the title, looked the stronger team in the first half, and scored through Philipp Witte just before the break for a 1-0 halftime lead.
The Belgians had had their chances, including four short corners, traditionally one of their big strong points, but they could not get on the scoreboard, and they still struggled as the second half started off. Taking advantage of their difficulties, Germany pulled further away with a fantastic reverse stick goal from the top of the circle from Matthias Witthaus.
The tables suddenly turned however as Alexander de Saeddeler sunk a penalty corner and Charles Vanderweghe added a field goal to level the scores. For about twenty minutes it seemed like the score was going to remain like that, and Belgium and Germany would reach the end of regulation time locked in a draw like in their pool match, but with eight minuets to go, Jerome Dekeyser stunned the World Champions with a penalty corner goal that suddenly had the Germans face the possibility of having to go through Olympic qualification.
Germany was able to level the scores once more as Niklas Meinert coolly converted a penalty stroke, but a goal in the dying seconds of the match from Jerome Truyens, deflecting a quickly executed free hit, spelt defeat for Markus Weise's team. The Germans now have to go to and Olympic qualifier, while Belgium were understandably elated at having bagged their ticket to Beijing - especially for those players who were part of the team who so narrowly missed out on going to Athens when they lost to South Africa in penalty strokes in 2004.
The day and tournament ended with the grand final between the Netherlands and Spain, a classic European final. Two years ago, Spain were the overjoyed gold medalists under the same circumstances, but this time, they could not keep the Dutch from claiming the title.
Holland got off to a good start with an early goal from Matthijs Brouwer in the fifth minute, but the match did not quite develop into the lively exchange of blows expected. Spain spent much of their time questioning the umpires decisions, and both teams seemed a bit listless compared to the enthusiastic performance of Belgium and Germany in the previous match. As the first half ended, Holland were awarded a penalty corner, and Taeke Taekema did what he does best, taking his tournament total to 15 goals and giving his team a comfortable two goal lead.
Spain came back a different team after a serious talking to by coach Maurits Hendriks in the change room, and was much better able to put pressure on the Dutch, creating several opportunities. Their efforts were crowned with success in the 52nd minute when Juan Lainz first scored for Spain, reducing Holland's lead to one goal. The Spaniards' joy only lasted for a few minutes however, then Taeke Taekema put away another one of his trademark penalty corner flicks to score his second goal of the day and his sixteenth in the tournament.
Despite this blow to their hopes of turning around the match, the Spanish kept pushing and were able to reduce the lag to one goal again when Edi Tubau touched in a penalty corner. The previous European Champions ran out of time however and had their crown snatched away by the elated Oranjes who duly celebrated their first European title since 1987.
Fairplay Award: Ireland
Best Goalkeeper: Guus Vogels (NED)
Topscorer: Taeke Taekema (NED)
Best Player: Robert van der Horst (NED)
Relegation Pool Czech Republic - Ireland 0-10 (0-4)
Relegation Pool England - France 7-0 (3-0)
Bronze Medal Match Belgium - Germany 4-3 (0-1)
Final Netherlands v Spain 3-2 (2-0)
1. Netherlands (qualified for 2008 Olympic Games)
2. Spain (qualified for 2008 Olympic Games)
3. Belgium (qualified for 2008 Olympic Games)
7. Ireland (relegated)
8. Czech Republic (relegated)
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