Hockey World Cup 2018: France, China battle for maiden quarterfinal spot

France would be up against the unknown Chinese, who was walloped 11-0 by Australia in its last league match but still ended above Ireland. The other cross-over game between England and New Zealand would be a more traditional rivalry.

France players after their match against Argentina and France at Kalinga on Thursday.   -  AFP

This wasn’t the line-up one had expected when the pools for the World Cup were announced. Ranked 17th and 20th in the world respectively, China and France would be fighting it out for a spot in the quarterfinals on Monday and whoever wins, would be the lowest-ranked team remaining in the fray.

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But then this World Cup has been all about upsets. China held England and Ireland to draws while France stunned Olympic champion Argentina to not just stay in the tournament but also throw out Spain, the highest-ranked side to be kicked out of the event so far and one the most talented here. It was just another step in the ambitious “Hockey 2024” project for the French who hope to be among the top-five at the 2024 Olympics among men.

But it would be up against the unknown Chinese, who was walloped 11-0 by Australia in its last league match but still ended above Ireland. “I want my boys to learn and experience. They have the ability, if they play to their capability they can get different results,” China coach Kim Sang Ryul had said. Against France, his boys would have their task cut out. Interestingly, China won both their games against the French during a test series in 2015, giving it a better 2-1 win record. The reward for a win would be a game against World No. 1 and twice defending champion Australia.

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The other cross-over game between England and New Zealand would be a more traditional rivalry. The two teams have met thrice before in World Cups and England have won all three times. That said, the overall record in the last five years is level at two wins apiece. England has reached the last-eight in every edition so far since 1973 and would be hoping to do so yet again. Then again, the tournament has been one of upsets so far and New Zealand would be hoping to add another one to the roster.

The schedule: Cross-overs

December 10: England vs New Zealand (5 pm), France vs China (7 pm).