(Photo: Stanislas Brochier)
A tight and cagey opening day of the FIH Champions Challenge II as just one goal was in the difference in each of the four ties in Lille.
Hosts France provided the day one fireworks as three goals in the four second half minutes saw them take the laurels from a nine-goal thriller against Russia.
The second seeds started brilliantly, Fabien Magner whipping home a rasping flick with just half a dozen minutes on the clock.
But the Russians stormed back into the game and were 3-1 ahead as skipper Aleksandr Platonov rounded off an excellent first half showing with a bullet hit from the circle’s edge to augment earlier strikes from Ravshanzhon Zakirov and Pavel Golubev.
France, though, were to grab the next four goals. Yannick Schambert reeled in part of the margin just prior to the turnaround from his side’s second corner, this time going low to beat Roman Rogov.
The hosts 100pc record from set-pieces continued into the second half as Magner also took the low road past Rogov for 3-3. Jean-Baptiste Pauchet and Olivier Sanchez added another pair in jig-time to change the face of the tie completely.
Zakriov tipped in his second from close range with three minutes but a second fightback was ruled out by the final hooter.
In the other Group B tie, Ireland began their campaign with a win but it proved a nervy affair as two goals around the hour mark gave Scotland late hope of overturning a 3-0 deficit.
Conor Harte’s corner goal had catapulted the boys in green into a commanding lead just a couple of minutes into the second period after early strikes from Alan Giles and Geoff McCabe.
But Gavin Byers’ neat corner rebound and an Alan Forsyth deflection deceived David Harte to make it a tight finish to what was a stagnant second half up to that point.
In Group A, Yixian Lu got top seeds China off to the perfect start as he netted from the penalty spot with 13 minutes to go of their tie with Austria.
Yang Dong’s first half drag flick had put the Asian side in the driving seat at the interval. Austrian talisman Michael Korper levelled the tie, though, in the 54th minute but parity was short-lived as a Chinese shot found a foot on the line and Lu duly applied the full punishment.
They take second place in the overnight standings, trailing the Czech Republic on goals scored after they twice came from a goal behind to beat the USA.
Again, a penalty stroke was vital. Stepan Bernatek was the man to do claim the glory this time. It was his second goal in two minutes, having applied the finishing touch to a nice team effort moments before to make it 2-2 in the 42nd minute.
Early on, Will Holt’s early effort from play was cancelled out by the powerful Tomas Prochazka who netted at corner time. US skipper Patrick Harris returned the favour to build a 2-1 half-time lead but amid a flurry of second half sin-binnings – four in total - Mannheimer man Bernatek held his nerve to carry the day.