Australia hit South Africa for six; Spain held back by Pakistan
Great Britain vs Argentina 4-1 (1-0 half-time)
Great Britain made their opening statement of intent as they battered their way to an opening group win, running riot in the second half to beat Argentina in a bruising affair, pock-marked with sin-binnings. Ashley Jackson’s sleight of hand played its part in killing off of the tie, creating goals for Barry Middleton and a first international strike for Dan Fox before Richard Smith’s drag-flick found its way in.
It added to Middleton’s first half punch-shot, putting GB 4-0 up before Pedro Ibarra got a late consolation from a corner, earned by Lucas Vila’s review. A slew of early, niggly fouls set the tone for a muscular game, both sides hyped up for the battle. Matt Daly thought he had given his side an early lead, fishing the ball out of Juan Manuel Vivaldi’s pads and netting in the fifth minute but a review denied a goal, the ball brushing his body in the act.
Physical tackles were very much in vogue and Ignacio Bergner was the first to go for a break. During his two-minute absence, Barry Middleton pounced, rebounding superbly off Vivaldi after Richard Smith’s initial drag-flick was palmed into his path. Vivaldi denied Jackson in the next phase while Argentina’s best chance fell to Facundo Callioni but a combination of James Fair and Iain Lewers forced him wide.
The same man was denied just after the break, ramping Agustin Mazilli’s powerful pass into Fair’s midriff. But Great Britain were always the more powerful force, probing the baselines and they hit the front when Jackson’s slip of the wrists opened up Middleton’s route for his second, albeit through Vivaldi’s legs. Again, Jackson’s quick thinking played in Fox for a truly brilliant team goal, a pitch length breakaway which the GB man gleefully pummelled home. Smith’s low drag made it three goals in 12 minutes and an unassailable lead, only sullied by Ibarra's low corner.
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Australia vs. South Africa: 6-0 (half-time: 2-0)
Jamie Dwyer earned a hat trick, tying him with Mark Hager as Australia’s all-time leading scorer as he paced South Africa to a convincing 6-0 victory against South Africa in today’s opening Pool A game. The game was a David vs. Goliath affair, with the Kookaburas ranked at the top of the FIH World Ranking and the Africans the lowest ranked team in the Olympic men’s tournament.
It did not take long for Jamie Dwyer to be dangerous, penetrating the circle and arriving alone in front of Erasmus Pieterse in the South African goal, who managed the save but conceded a penalty-corner. The South Africans survived the initial flurries of Australian attacks and play became more balanced for awhile.
Australia earned a penalty-stroke in the 16th minute after a pinball sequence in the South African circle, the ball hitting sticks, posts and players. Jamie Dwyer cleanly slotted the ball out of Pietere’s reach to open the scoring. The Australians then had a string of near misses; including a one-on-one chance by Kieran Govers.
It was once again Dwyer who got the offense going, offering a splendid pass to Matthew Butturini with an easy tap-in for the 2-0 lead. Although the South Africans were clearly pushed back on their heels during most of the half, the score was only 2-0 at the break.
South Africa played well at the beginning of second half, displaying strong individual skills and swift combinations, but Australia opened an insurmountable lead with two rapid fire penalty-corner goals, from Christopher Ciriello and Dwyer.
Dwyer completed his hat-trick with ten minutes left, scoring on another penalty-stroke after been taken down by Pieterse in the circle. The goal moved Dwyer level with Mark Hager as the top Australian all-time goal scorer.
South Africa ran out of steam in the final stages of the match and could not deal any more with wave after wave of Kookaburas attacks. Glenn Turner added a final goal and Australia comfortably bagged the three points.
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Spain vs. Pakistan: 1-1 (half-time: 0-0)
Silver medallists from Beijing Spain, ranked 5th in the FIH World Rankings, opened their 2012 Olympic campaign against Pakistan, ranked 3 rows behind them. It took the two teams a while to settle down, with many turn-overs and unforced errors on both sides in the opening 10 minutes. The first chance was for Pakistan on penalty-corner, and Sohail Abbas, the master in this exercise, nearly hit the target, his powerful flick barely deflected on the crossbar by Francisco Cortes in the Spanish goal.
Spain was equally unsuccessful a few minutes later at the other end, with Pakistan salvaged by a superb stick save on the line by Muhammad Irfan. Neither team could take control of play, making for an exciting match with attacks flowing swiftly back and forth. Spain tried to develop collective moves, but the Pakistani were closing very quickly on them, leaving them no time to manoeuver. Pakistan used their speed to mount speedy counter-attacks and created good chances.
Spain had a tough time containing Pakistan in the closing stages of the period, but survived to reach half-time on a goalless score.
The contest got very heated in second period, with still nobody able to assume domination for a sustained period of time. Then the floodgates opened briefly and the crowd was treated to two splendid goals in less than one minute, first by Rehan Butt at the conclusion of a counter-attack that pierced the Spanish defense, then immediately after by Pau Quemada hammering in goal a long pass from midfield with a stunning reverse stick shot.
In the last 15 minutes, both teams had chances to make the break, but consistently struggled in the last pass or final shot. No more goals were scored and the match ended on a draw (1-1) which is a good result for Pakistan but might hurt Spain’s chances to reach the semi-finals.
For more information on AUS v RSA, click here.