MCC2 Final: France 2, Ireland 4
Ireland bounced back from the painful memory of the 2009 Champions Challenge II final as they produced some moments of brilliance to deny host France in a tense final in Lille.
In 2009, Ireland blew a two-goal lead against Poland before ultimately falling on penalty strokes. This time round they were facing bogey side France on their home turf who threatened at times to pull off a similar feat.
But a magical end-to-end move created the clinching goal for Gareth Watkins, in his first major tournament, to tap in after Eugene Magee, Peter Blakeney and the superb Peter Caruth carried the ball 90 metres.
It was a fitting winner to a goal-fest of a tournament, ending a cracking tie which was in the balance until that late salvo.
Ireland had taken the lead in the 18th minute after Chris Cargo was felled and skipper Ronan Gormley duly converted the penalty stroke.
Eugene Magee continued Ireland’s excellent penalty corner statistics when he dragged home 2-0 on the half-hour.
But the French still had their part to play and were back in the ball game 45 seconds before the break as a right-wing cross was bounced all the way to Matthieu Catonnet and he swivelled to finish from a yard out.
And France took up the initiative at the start of the second period but were rocked by a fine team goal, Andy McConnell getting the crucial tip-in. Again, the two-goal lead looked vulnerable and Jean-Baptiste scrambled in a rebound.
They piled forward looking to close the gap but were caught on the counter-attack when Magee stole the ball on his own’s circle’s edge, the ambition was there to go for the jugular.
Blakeney fed Caruth on the right and he swept across for Watkins to score his fourth goal of the competition.
It earns Ireland a place in the Champions Challenge I, the second highest tier of world hockey as wells as providing top preparation for August’s European championships.
Russia, meanwhile, netted three times in the closing seven minutes to deny Scotland bronze in gut-wrenching fashion, winning 3-1 after the highlanders had led for much of the 3rd/4th playoff.
It was always going to be a test of stamina for Scotland who could only use 14 players due to Kenny Bain and Gareth Hall’s suspensions. Their plight got even tougher when skipper Graham Moodie went off at half-time injured, leaving front trio Gavin Byers, Fergus Dunn and Alan Forsyth a huge job of running an intense press pretty much on their own.
They were given energy by Byers’ 19th minute opening goal, slamming home from the circle’s edge after Marat Gafarov had denied Dunn’s shot by just a matter of inches. It was a superb recovery but the last-ditch nature of it meant he had little choice where he could clear it to and Byers was a grateful recipient.
Forsyth had also gone close early on but Russia bossed much of the opening half, Nikolay Komarov a constant menace who twice calm within centimetres of scoring while Nikolay Yankun’s deflected drag-flick was denied by Wei Adams.
The second half was a much tighter affair with play congealed between the 25s for the most part. With time running out, however, play opened up as Scotland’s legs seemed to struggle with the extra workload.
They were stung on the counter-attack after Dunn’s rasping reverse stung Gafarov’s palms. He got enough on it though to spring a Russian forward volley which ended with Komarov squaring for Mamoshkin to bundle home.
In the build-up, Willie Marshall came together with Evgeny Mokrousov and was shown a yellow card, one which ruled him out of the last six minutes of the game. Yet more open country was revealed and Pavel Golubev put Russia in front for the first time with 75 seconds to go.
It was a classy effort, Sergey Kostarev centring from the left wing and Golubev, on his knees, leant forward to thunder the ball past Mark Fulton. Anton Kornilov added a third for good measure soon after to garner bronze, leaving Scotland in fourth place after one win from their six games.
Earlier, Tomas Prochazka fired two late penalty corners to turn the Czech Republic’s tie with China on its head and earn fifth place, dropping the top seeds China into sixth place after a 4-3 result.
The Mannheimer drag-flicker overturned a 3-1 deficit, forged via Yixian Liu’s pair of drag-flicks in the first half as well as a stunning Xiantang Liu goal inside 15 seconds of the first whistle.
He dived onto the end of Fenghui Lu’s excellent reverse-stick pass for a very early advantage. Jakub Kyndl wiped out that lead before Liu applied his double dose.
Stepan Bernatek reacted sharply in the seconds leading up to half-time to guide home a deflected ball to pull it back to 3-2 at half-time but, for long periods of the second half, the Chinese looked on course for fifth.
That was until the Czechs won a corner with six minutes to go. Prochazka slammed it into the net for 3-3 and within a minute he had another chance, making no mistake yet again, moving his tournament tally to six to take the lead in the current standings.
In the seventh place playoff, USA finished their campaign on a high courtesy of a fine second half performance.
Michael Korper dragged home his third penalty corner of the competition to start Austria’s day in decent fashion but Michiel Dijkxhoorn tied the match up in the 25th minute from a couple of centimetres, tipping in from the right post.
Wil Holt’s double inside a couple of second half minutes swung the tie before Jon Ginolfi made absolutely sure of the result in the 53rd minute. Georg Jelinek pulled one back but Patrick Harris netted his fourth corner of the week to copper-fasten the victory.
FIH Men's Champions Challenge II final
Ireland 4 (Ronan Gormley, Eugene Magee, Andy McConnell, Gareth Watkins)
France 2 (Matthieu Catonnet, Jean-Baptiste Pauchet)