The first of this year's Olympic Qualifiers started here in Auckland today with the clash of the two European participants, France and Ireland, with both teams looking for important points in their bids to edge one of the big two out of the final.
After an open beginning, Ireland got an early head start when Mark Gleghorne took advantage of a penalty corner to give his team the lead. France subsequently got into the game a little better but rarely managed to challenge their rivals. The game turned fierce, in towards the end of the first half, it was first France that picked up a yellow card, but they were soon followed by Ireland who saw their captain Paddy Brown sidelined after a hearty tackle.
In the second half, Ireland gradually acquired full control of the match, pushing France back into their half for long stretches of time, and rarely allowing them to make their way to the Irish circle. A few minutes into the second half, John Jermyn extended his team's lead to two when he hit the ball over the diving goalkeeper into the roof of the goal.
Michael Watt added another when he finished off a nice attack with a curious deflection, and his second of the day in the dying minutes of the match, slamming a ball bouncing back off the post into the net for the final score of 4-0.
Ireland deservedly took the honors today, having been the better team throughout the match, while France seemed tired and listless and will have to work to get past this defeat and step up their game in the coming matches. The Irish will be happy with three points safely tucked away, a good base to push for the final.
Subsequently, New Zealand opened their campaign in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a resounding victory over Trinidad and Tobago. The win was never in doubt early on in the match with New Zealand having the early dominance.
New Zealand had a succession of goals with in the first 14 minutes, goal scorers being Hayden Shaw from a penalty corner, David Kosoof and Simon Child scoring from open play field goals.
By the end of the first half New Zealand had scored a further four goals and had dominated the territory and possession. The half ended with New Zealand 7 and having a clean score sheet.
Trinidad and Tobago had the better start in the second half but failed to capitalize of great opportunities. The New Zealand team loosened the stranglehold in the early stages of the Second half which disappointed coach McLeod. That allowed Trinidad to rejuvenate and build and attack having the run of the play in the second half.
That was the catalyst for New Zealand to hit back with another succession of goals. By the end of the game two New Zealand players had scored four goals each with many others chipping in.
The New Zealand coach was pleased with the win but also highlighted to down patch on the resumption after the break as a concern. The much stronger Irish team defended well in their first game and will be tough to break, described as being “robust” by Shane McLeod.
Trinidad and Tobago are pleased to be a part of this event having qualified through the Pan American Games. They were well beaten today but the Caribbean flare shone bright! They will bounce back in their next game against Argentina but their target game is against USA in a week’s time.
New Zealand will take their confidence into their next game Ireland which will be a good challenge for them.
To wrap up Day 1, Argentina took on the USA. From the starting whistle, Argentina were the stronger team
with a far greater shre in ball possession, dictating play for long stretches of time and confining the
action deep into the USA half.
After a first minute fluke goal by Lucas Vila, Argentina struggled at the beginning of the encounter to transform their superiority in shots on goal or the creation of dangerous situations, but in the later part of the first 35 minutes, they finally got going. Scoring steadily throughout the first half, they took the half-time score to 5:0.
In the second half, they added two more in a rush in the first five minutes, only to get stuck in another spell of not being able to find the goal. The USA defense worked hard during the entire match, and despite what the final scoreline might suggest, denied the Argentineans many times.
Eventually running out of steam hey could not avoid two late goals when the Argentineans turned up the heat at the end of the match, but with two seconds remaining on the clock, they also managed to score one of their own, as Nate Coolidge made good use of the Argentineans' fading concentration to slap a ball into the net for the consolation goal that avoided the big O in the final score and made them the only losing team today to score a goal. Nonetheless, the USA today could not challenge the clearly superior Argentineans who produced a good show and confirmed their aspirations for the final but did display a certain weakness in the penalty corner department, giving away a considerable number of opportunities.
These first day results put New Zealand at the top of the standings, closely followed by Argentina. Ireland is also in the top half of the table, while France, the USA and Trinidad&Tobago make the bottom half.
Play at the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier in Auckland resumes tomorrow, starting off with the exciting locking of horns between hosts New Zealand and Ireland, continuing with the clash of USA and France, and finishing with the match between Argentina and Trinidad&Tobago.
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