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Goals galore on opening day of FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup

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Lausanne, Switzerland: Comebacks, upsets, and routine wins. The first day of the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup Poland 2023/24 had it all and began with Malaysia and Pakistan playing out an eight-goal draw.

In the second game, France got the better of Canada 4-0 before Austria stunned a superior South African side 3-4. The final fixture saw hosts give their best against an experienced New Zealand side who came out on top 4-2.

Malaysia 4-4 Pakistan

Pakistan came back from three goals down to draw 4-4 against Malaysia as the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup began in sensational fashion.

It was a one-sided first quarter in Gniezno, with Malaysia barely giving any time for a nervy Pakistan to settle down. The constant pressure led to the Green Shirts conceding a penalty stroke that was thumped in by Fitri Saari. Soon after, Abu Kamal Azrai made the most of an opportunity after Pakistan lost possession in midfield. Azrai’s delightful skill before a low and powerful finish doubled the advantage. Malaysia’s third came from a penalty corner from Faizal Saari. However, there was a lengthy video referral before the umpire judged in favour of the Speedy Tigers.

Pakistan turned on the style in the third quarter, and pulled one back as Rana Waheed Ashraf’s mazy run and deflected shot was tapped in by Abdul Rehamn. They looked like a rejuvenated side after the first half, but an error in the 42nd minute led to a penalty stroke for Malaysia. Fitri Saari made no mistake and scored his second of the game. It was end-to-end as Sufyan Khan sent a rocket down the middle from a penalty corner to gain momentum back. With nine minutes to go, Pakistan scored their third after a scramble near the box as Hannan Shahid was the quickest to react. The silver medallists of the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year drew the game level in cinematic style with less than a minute to go. Desperate defending from Malaysia resulted in a penalty stroke that was converted with ease by Abu Mahmood.

Malaysian goalkeeper Zaimi Mat Deris was named player of the match and stressed on the need to be more concrete at the back. He said: “We need more discipline. We need to improve in the next game. Our players have more potential and we need more game time to showcase that.”

France 4-0 Canada

Olympic hosts France began their journey in Poland with a comfortable win over Canada despite a slow start to the game. Both teams started on the front foot, and earned a penalty corner each early in the first quarter, but failed to convert. It was a recurring theme throughout the match with France unable to find the back of the net from nine penalty corners.

The first goal came in the 25th minute as Les Bleus stepped on the pedal. The Canadian defenders were frustrating the French, but the deadlock was finally broken with a cheeky finish from Gaspard Baumgarten. The next three of their goals came in the final quarter, but the match provided plenty of drama as both sides missed penalty strokes. The miss from Canada was painful for the team as Brendan Guraliuk powered through the midfield, showcasing excellent dribbling skills before being brought down, only to be outsmarted by Edgar Reynaud from the spot.

The final quarter saw France apply pressure early on and it proved crucial as Baumgarten sent a pile driver from the left. His deflected shot was tapped in by Eliot Curty. In the 53rd minute, another penalty stroke favoured the French and this time, Victor Charlet made no mistake. A minute later, Curty did the hard work to set up Blaise Rogeau to seal the deal as the Canadians ran out of steam.

Francois Goyet of France was awarded player of the match and his teammate Baumgarten spoke about the importance of the win. He said: “We feel great because it’s the first game of the tournament. It was important and a good win even though we took time to score the first goal and the other ones. But we didn’t have a goal against us. I am pretty happy with the first game.”

South Africa 3-4 Austria

Penalty corners was the name of the game as Austria joined the comebacks bandwagon against South Africa in an entertaining game. The start saw the higher-ranked South Africa show their class, going up only after four minutes. The lovely team goal started from the midfield as Nqobile Ntuli provided the final touch, falling backwards. They looked the better organised side in the beginning and underlined that with a well-taken penalty corner by Mathew Guise-Brown.

What initially looked like a one-sided game switched almost instantly when a brisk counter-attack from Josef Winkler earned a penalty corner for Austria, emphatically converted by Julian Kaiser. The speed of play from the Austrians troubled their opponents, who looked like world beaters in the first five minutes, and another penalty corner in the 20th minute saw them level the scores thanks to Fülöp Losonci. Four minutes before the half-time, Maximilian Scholz gave the Austrians the lead.

The confidence of taking the lead meant that they controlled the game soon after the restart. Drag flickers were giving South Africa a tough time and Scholz got his second of the game to put them in a comfortable position. While South Africa showed that they too could excel at penalty corners with yet another sublime finish from Guise-Brown, Austria did enough to hold on for a crucial win.

Austria’s Xaver Hasun, who was judged player of the match, said: “We went 2-0 down to one of the favourites, and we are a young team. A game like this is incredible and motivating. I am proud of the boys. I am delighted to be honest. It is great to play with these guys. I haven’t played a lot with most of them. And they have done us proud.”

New Zealand 4-2 Poland

The hosts almost gave New Zealand a run for their money as they went down 4-2 in the last match of the day. It would be unfair to say that the home crowd didn’t play their part, but in the end, it was a small difference in quality that made all the difference for the Black Sticks.

Brad Read read the game well and finished off a neat team move to give New Zealand the lead. The team from Oceania made it difficult for the Poles with some slick passing and Jake Smith doubled it at the beginning of the second quarter.

The Poles failed to capitalise on a few counterattacks, but a penalty corner from Damian Jarzembowski brought some balance to the game midway through the second quarter. The experienced Kane Russell almost gifted the hosts an easy chance when he fouled Gracjan Jarzyński, but the resulting penalty stroke was put wide. New Zealand regained control of the game and Jonty Elmes and Simon Child put the result beyond doubt. The duo showed composure to score one each to leave the hosts to rue their missed chances.

New Zealand’s Nic Woods, who was awarded the player of the match, was full of praise for the home team and said: “Massive credit to them today. I am seriously impressed. They scored some fantastic goals and I look forward to watching them the rest of the tournament.”

To see the current standings in the FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup, click here.

FIH Hockey Men’s Nations Cup  – 31 May 2024

Hockey Stadium – Gniezno, (POL)

Result: Match 1 (M)

Malaysia 4-4 Pakistan

Player of the match: Zaimi Mat Deris (MAS)

Umpires: Tim Bond (NZL), Harry Collinson (ENG), Benjamin Peters (USA-video)

Result: Match 2 (M)

France 4-0 Canada

Player of the match:  Francois Goyet (FRA)

Umpires: Federico Silva (ARG), Erik Etsebeth (RSA), Tim Bond (NZL-video)

Result: Match 3 (M)

South Africa 3-4  Austria

Player of the match: Xaver Hasun (AUT)

Umpires: Paul Van Den Assum (NED), Michael Dutrieux (BEL), Harry Collinson (ENG-video)

Result: Match 4 (M)

New Zealand 4-2 Poland

Player of the match: Nic Woods (NZL)

Umpires: Benjamin Titus Ngolia (KEN), Peters (USA), Federico Silva (ARG-video)



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