The third day at the WorldHockey Qualifier saw Ireland cruise past Trinidad&Tobago to stay within reach of the table leaders, Argentina putting in hard work to get past France, and the Black Sticks defeating the USA to reclaim the table lead.
Ireland and Trinidad/Tobago took the stage first today at the Crown Relocations Stadium here in Auckland. T&T started off aggressively, challenging the Irish team who have made a very good impression in this tournament so far, but Ireland remained unfazed and started putting away goals at a steady pace, building up a three goal lead through goals by Phelie Maguire, Mark Gleghorne and Eugene Magee within the first 18 minutes.
Gathering their bearings to keep the scoreline at three until the end of the first half, Trinidad&Tobago suddenly threatened to turn the game around, when they put away their first goal with seconds remaining on the clock in the first half, as Marcus James tapped in a Dillet Gilkes pass, and added a second just after the re-start of the match, when Nicholas Wren caught Irish goalkeeper David Harte on the wrong foot with a hit from the edge of the circle.
The Irish kept their cool however, and restored a two goal lead within a minute, Mark Gleghorne making good use of a penalty corner to score his second of the day. John Jermyn added another ten minutes later, and David Hobbs and Ronan Gormley piled on two more goals in the final minutes of the match, taking maximum advantage of the slow but sure fading of their opponents. Trinidad&Tobago showed occasional moments of brilliance today but lack the consistency to seriously challenge stronger teams such as Ireland.
In the second match of the day, France took on Argentina, and got off to a blazing start when Nicolas Gaillard scooped a ball played across the circle up over Juan Vivaldi and into the roof of the goal.
Subsequently, an untidy game developped with too much bickering and sloppy mistakes on both sides, making for a match that was exciting to watch for what was at stake but not for displays of great skill or nice combinations.Argentina struggled considerably with the resistance they encountered from the French after cruising through their two easy opening matches, and it took them a quarter of an hour to get their act together.
After Matias Vila had been unsuccessful on two penalty corners, younger brother Lucas Vila then stepped up for the third and put it away for the equalizer, with eldest brother Rodrigo Vila adding a second goal four minutes later. Lucas Vila's goal was also his 7th of the event, giving him the solitary lead in the list of goalscorers at the end of day 3.
Safe on a two goal lead, Argentina then started playing more like what one would expect of them, gaining confidence and taking control to drive play. Just before the break, Juan Garreta extended Argentina's lead to two goals, hammering in a ball from the edge of the circle.
Argentina dominated the proceedings now, with France's attacks few and far between, but few shots on goal on either side, as the French defense played their hearts out to keep the Southamericans at bay. The French even entered the danger zone in the 58th minute, closing the gap to one goal when Frederic Soyez pushed the ball over the line from a goalmouth scramble. But the Argentines came forward with an immediate reply, as Lucas Cammareri slapped a great pass from Lucas Vila into an empty goal to re-establish the two goal lead.
With little more than ten minutes to go, the French faced an uphill battle at two goals down, and soon found there was no way past the stonewalling Argentinean defense protecting their lead, and the result stayed as it was. This gave Argentina their third consecutive win, but they had to work much harder for it than in their previous two encounters. Despite the narrow win, the Argentines were never in much danger to give up points here, but still will have to step up their game if they intend to challenge the Black Sticks.
The hosts concluded the day with their match against the USA. The clear favorites, New Zealand already had two reasons to celebrate before the match ever started, with goalkeeper Kyle Pontifex celebrating his 27th birthday, and captain Ryan Archibald his 200th cap.
When the match started however, the Kiwis met an unexpected amount of resistance from the US boys, who lost their first two matches rather clearly but seem to be gaining momentum as the tournament progresses. Nick Conway's team put forward a spirited performance today, and played their hearts out on the field, but eventually could not avoid four goals for a 0-4 defeat.
Phil Burrows scored the first early in the match, hammering a ball in through between the keeper's legguards, but New Zealand then found themselves unable to get through the ranks of the US defense for almost the remainder of the first half. The USA worked oduble time to stem the tide, but the pressure kept building and eventually resulted in Simon Child extending the lead to two goals with seconds to go before the break.
New Zealand kept dominating the game in the second half, with Hayden Shaw and Phil Burrows adding two more goals, but the Black Sticks kept struggling with the USA's tenacious defending. Especially goalkeeper Jeb Saez put forward a remarkable performance today, making a major contribution to the scoreline staying at four goals.
In the end it was a well deserved win for New Zealand but tribute should be paid to the USA for holding up so well in the face of overwhelming opponents - ranked a whopping 17 places above them in the world rankings.
Halfway through the WorldHockey Olympic Qualifier here in Auckland, New Zealand are thus back in the top spot of the standings thanks to a better goal difference over Argentina in second. Ireland follow on six points and France on three, with the USA and Trinidad&Tobago bringing up the rear, so far without points in this competition.
Play resumes tomorrow Wednesday with Trinidad&Tobago taking on France, the match of the day between teable leaders New Zealand and Argentina, and Ireland meeting the USA.
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