On the men's semi-final day of the GANT EuroHockey Championship, the men emulated the women's competition, with the Netherlands and Germany going through to the final at the expense of Belgium and England respectively. Relegation was decided early today already: with one round of matches still to be played, Ireland and Spain are safe, while Russia and France will be playing in Championship 2 in 2013.
In the first match on this second-but-last day in Mönchengladbach, Ireland took on Russia, and the team from the Emerald Isle encountered little resistance in their bid to secure a place amongst Europe's top 8 at the next EuroHockey Championships in 2013. The Russian team looked worn out from their first three matches and, apart from occasional glimpses of brilliance, had little to offer in the face of an energetic Irish team that applied pressure from the start and played fast attacking hockey in the first half. Five goals from five different players were the reward, and it wasn't until the last ten minutes before the break that the Russians started to get their feet on the ground, which even yielded a goal for them through veteran Aleksandr Platonov who turned 37 two days ago. After the break and their 6th goal through William McCabe, Ireland shifted back a gear and the pace of the match decreased, which allowed the Russians to gain a bigger share of the action. A counter-attack gave the Russians their second goal, but they could manage no more, whereas Irish captain John Jermyn converted two late penalty corners for the final 8-2 result.
In the other relegation match, the Spanish found it more difficult than expected to overcome a fiercely fighting French side. Clear favorites in the encounter, the Iberians seemed to not have recovered all the way from the disappointment of missing out on the semi-finals, and France started off the slightly better team. Lucas Sevestre made this team's advantage count and sank a goal for Les Bleus, but Spain struck back within four minutes through Edi Tubau. Halftime had to be extended to about 45 minutes as the heavy rain had made the pitch unplayable, but when the teams came back, Spain had regained some energy and started steering the game. France was still dangerous, especially through fast counter-attacks, but the match started leaning Spain's way, even though the team around captain Santi Freixa struggled to capitalize on their opportunities. Finally, 8 minutes from the end, Marc Sallés took a heavy burden off the Spanish shoulders with his winning goal, securing A division status for 2013 for his team.
The first semi-final pitted Belgium against their neighbours the Netherlands, and the Red Devils once more showed their class, putting up a formidable challenge for their opponents in orange who are 10 places ahead of them in the current FIH World Rankings. Despite an early goal from the Dutch through Valentin Verga, for whom it was the first goal for his country, the Belgians stayed confident and soon pulled level with a field goal from Florent Aubel. Only 7 minutes later, Simon Gougnard stunned the Dutch with a penalty corner rebound that put the Belgians ahead on the scoreboard. The joy was shortlived however, as Taeke Taekema put away a missile of a drag flick three minutes later to pull level before the break.
Barely back from the changing rooms, Taekema piled on another for the 3-2 lead for the Dutch, and he had yet another opportunity within minutes, but this time, Belgian keeper David van Rysselberghe pulled off a fabulous save to deny the tournament's leading goalscorer. As the minutes ticked away, the Lions started to fade, missing the spark that saw them overcome Spain, and Holland held on to their advantage without having to exert themselves. Ten minutes before the end, Robbert Kempermann put the match to rest with a push over the line after a great run along the backline. Belgium did not have the energy anymore to dispute the 4-2 scoreline, and the Dutch sailed through the last ten minutes towards Sunday's European final.
Concluding the day was the second semi-final, another rain-soaked encounter which saw Germany and England take to field in a stadium well filled with over 6.000 spectators. The initial phase of the match was highly dynamic, with the ball going back and forth fast and both sides getting equal shares of action and opportunities at both ends of the field. The roughness of the game was resolved with a few green cards, and soon, Germany were the first to get on the scoreboard however when Philipp Zeller beat goalkeeper James Fair for the 1-0 lead for Germany. During the remainder of the first half, there were more opportunities for both teams, but either side failed to make them count, and the half time score was still 1-0 in Germany's favor.
After the break, both teams still failed to make anything of the opportunities they had, while the incessant rain started clogging up the pitch, and the pace of the match decreased markedly. With 23 minutes remaining on the clock, the field was finally declared unplayable, and the teams retreated to the changing rooms for what was ultimately more than an hour of delay. Play eventually resumed as both teams were visibly keen to finish the match today rather than resume playing tomorrow after the women's final, but the pitch was still soaked and slow. Thilo Stralkowski had a great opportunity for Germany, but put his reverse stick attempt slightly wide. At the other end, England were awarded a penalty corner, but were denied by a great save from Max Weinhold. In the 62nd minute, the ball finally found the net again when Oskar Deecke put away a low shot from the right side of the circle, and Germany were 2-0 ahead. The English had a few penalty corners but were denied time and again, while Oliver Korn at the other end took the match out of reach with the Germans' third goal.
Sunday's matches are thus as follows: Russia play France for 7th place, Spain and Ireland for 5th place. The bronze medal match sees Belgium take on England, and the Netherlands and Germany play for the men's 2011 European Champions title.
For more information on this event, please visit the EHF website www.eurohockey.org.
The EuroHockey Championships, held in Mönchengladbach from 20 to 28 August 2011, have confirmed 5 more participants in the 2012 Olympic hockey tournament in addition to the already qualified Great Britain men and women, Pakistan men and China and Korea women: the men of Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium have secured their ticket to London, as well as the women of Germany and the Netherlands.
Russia - Ireland 2:8 (1:5)
Aleksandr Platonov, Pavel Plesetskiy; Michael Watt, Mitch Darling, Eugene Magee, Timothy Cockram, David Ames, William McCabe, John Jermyn 2
Spain - France 2:1 (1:1)
Edi Tubau, Marc Sallés; Lucas Sevestre
Belgium - Netherlands 2:4 (2:2)
Florent van Aubel, Simon Gougnard; Valentin Verga, Taeke Taekema 2, Robbert Kemperman
Germany - England 3:0 (1:0)
Philipp Zeller, Oskar Deecke, Oliver Korn
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