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Home team Spain have emerged as the major surprise of the tournament after a second straight win over a top five-ranked team on day three of the Samsung Hockey World Cup in Madrid.
After two matches, the home nation has dispatched two of the fancied teams to turn the pre-tournament predictions upside down.
While Spain is riding high, two of the tournament’s big names are struggling to find anywhere near their best form.
Germany and China, the world’s number three and five ranked teams, have just one win between them after two rounds and require a dramatic lift in form to fulfil their title ambitions.
With the closeness of the results continuing – today was the second with all matches decided by a single goal – there is little margin for error in all matches as one of the most evenly-contested World Cups is maintains its unpredictable mood.
Luckily for Germany, they escaped a potentially disastrous result after the brilliance of striker Natascha Keller dragged them to victory over India just four minutes from full time.
Germany were playing without striker Nadine Ernsting-Krienke who has been ruled out of the World Cup after fracturing her left index finger in their opening round loss to Spain.
The current Olympic and Champions Trophy title holder was in serious danger of recording their second straight loss before two goals in the final 10 minutes ensured their first win of the tournament against a team that has played well but so far failed to make it count on the points table.
Like Germany, China was another other team expected to vie strongly for a place in the semi finals, but after two complete rounds they sit at the bottom of the table.
A second straight loss, this time to Spain, has this year’s Champions Trophy silver medallists staring at an early exit from contention.
Their effort to reach the final in Amsterdam two months ago gave hope they would challenge for the World Cup title, but they have brought indifferent form with them to Madrid and now are an outside chance to make the medal matches.
Spain are undoubtedly the surprise performer of the tournament, with a second consecutive one-goal victory giving them a perfect record and equal top spot in the Pool.
Today’s victory was built on tenacious defence, brilliant goalkeeping and a willing spirit, along with an ounce of good fortune as China peppered their net without having the touch to convert multiple chances.
Coach Pablo Usoz said he considered his team was now at the same level as the top nations after entering the tournament a level below the world’s best.
So far avoiding the fate of the other higher-ranked Pool A teams is world number one the Netherlands after they did enough to narrowly edge England.
With other teams battling for consistency, the Dutch have worked themselves into great position, with maximum points and control of Pool A alongside the home team, their opponents on Sunday.
The loss for England, while disappointing in itself, was further soured with news that captain Kate Walsh will miss the rest of the World Cup after dislocating her left kneecap in the first half.
Walsh was accidentally struck by the stick of a Dutch opponent after challenging for the ball two minutes before half time and was immediately carried from the pitch and transferred by ambulance to hospital during the half time break.
Pool B teams are in action again tomorrow for their third round matches, with Argentina and Australia having a great chance to consolidate their semi final claims.
Australia have the tougher assignment with a clash against Korea, while Argentina play South Africa. The other match on day four is between USA and Japan.
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