It’s eyes firmly set on the 2024 Olympics at home and having already punched above its weight so far in Bhubaneswar, France kept its dream alive at the 2018 Hockey World Cup on Monday with a 1-0 win against China, in an erratic game of attrition between the two lowest-ranked two teams in the fray.
France clearly was the better side, taking inspiration from its win over Argentina and carrying the momentum forward, hoping for an early goal. It came close, earning four consecutive penalty corners in the second minute, but was denied every time by rusher Ao Weibao, who had to finally be stretchered out.
In fact, credit for keeping the French quiet till the 36th minute – when Timothee Clement finally got the breakthrough – and after that should also go to Chinese goalkeeper Wang Caiyu, who pulled off repeated saves from both sides.
The Chinese crowded the midfield and defence, hoping for a desperate error from the French that came in the ninth minute, when Lixing Su got the ball at the top of circle only to see it snatched away by the lone French defender.
French coach Jeroen Delmee – a double Olympic and World Cup champion – on the other hand would be frustrated by the poor positioning and passing of his wards. Charles Masson and Francois Goyet kept receiving the ball on the right flank, but were often out of position for the final pass. Two consecutive penalty corners in the final minute for China were not enough to give it the equaliser.
Also advancing to the last eight was England with a clinical 2-0 win against New Zealand to keep its record of making the last-eight stage in every World Cup since 1973 intact and set up a meeting with Argentina.
Clearly the better team with dominance in every department, England nevertheless missed chances to score more, and both coach Danny Kerry and captain Phil Roper admitted that penalty corners were an area they needed to work on, more so given the fact that Argentina has Gonzalo Peillat in its ranks.
The reward for France will be a quarterfinal meeting with world No. 1 and two-time defending champion Australia. But for now, France will savour this victory.